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Un-Teaching Tolerance: Moving Towards Appreciation

Written by AppreciatingDiversity  |  18. November 2002

Why do we teach "tolerance" when it comes to diversity?
Tolerance is something you have for a pimple showing up on your face the night before a big date. Tolerance is something you show when you lack the assertiveness or energy to just tell someone to bug off.

Following are just a few reasons why tolerance is not the answer!

Every day we get exactly what we ask for
The state of race and cross-cultural relations today--the persistence of age-old challenges, anxiety, misunderstanding and conflict--all tell us that the understanding we seek, is nowhere to be found in the "tolerance" we teach.

Tolerance neither encourages us to understand, nor accept one another
In our heads we believe that we already know "their" story based on how they look, how they dress, or how they speak, but we don't. And, in our hearts, we know that.

Tolerance does not encourage us to be curious about one another
Think about it. If you merely tolerate someone, are you inclined to find out how they see the world? Are you interested enough to explore their unique worldviews and to find the value their culture or perspective can provide?

Tolerance does not encourage us to appreciate one another's differences
Dictionary.com has one definition of tolerance as follows: The endurance of the presence or actions of objectionable persons, or of the expression of offensive opinions. In addition, most definitions alluding to medical contexts for the word refer to a foreign agent introduced or imposed on the body and focus on its resistance and ability to function despite it. These definitions speak for themselves. When we appreciate the fact that others can be and often are different from us, our world opens up to curiosity, understanding and appreciation.

In no other context, is tolerance a good thing!
Nowhere else is this term a positive thing. Imagine telling your mother-in-law you are "tolerating" her--what do you think the result would be?

So what should we attempt to do then?
Forget tolerance. Let's commit to learning the skills that can enable us to truly communicate with one another even when we agree to disagree about our different perspectives. Let's engage in authentic dialogue, to more effectively manage conflict so that both parties come out better than before, to disassemble the stereotypes on which we've relied for way too long and that only serve to build walls between us, and let's take ownership of our own individual role in perpetuating the misunderstanding and conflict or in breaking it down. Let's commit then, to understanding and appreciating cultural diversity. The harmony of our planet, our work environments, our neighborhoods, and our collective future depends on it!

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