Acceptance versus tolerance. Do you know the difference? Let’s go back to the thesaurus and check.
Acceptance, noun: the process or fact of being received as adequate, valid, or suitable. Synonyms: welcome, welcoming, favourable reception, embracing approval, adoption, integration.
Tolerance, noun: the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with. Synonyms: forbearance, toleration, sufferance, liberality, open-mindedness, lack of prejudice, lack of bias, broad-mindedness.
Do you see the difference?
Acceptance carries ease, openness, belonging and equality within itself, whereas tolerance evokes pain, struggle, judgment, covert rejection and a certain degree of superiority. Acceptance comes from the heart, tolerance from the head. It’s that difference between an emotion and a principle. If Acceptance was a person, they would say “When we don’t have what we love, we must love what we have”. If Tolerance was a person, they would say “Live and let live”.
Acceptance is a game changer. A life changer. Acceptance changes the lives of both the person accepting and the person being accepted because it springs from the energy of love. My synonym for acceptance is love. No need to add “unconditional” before love because love is, intrinsically, unconditional. Acceptance changes you at your core. It is deeply transformative for the better of us all. When accepting or accepted something good — very good — happens to your inner biochemistry and to your whole being.
Just take a few minutes to close your eyes and recall a time when you felt (fully, more, a little bit) accepted. If this is difficult in the world of adults, think about your child or your pet. Can you feel it? And can you feel how it makes you feel now? The simple thought of acceptance makes you feel happy, open, warm, emotional, safe, strong, relaxed. When we feel accepted, we also become more accepting; we become better humans. Our self-esteem is boosted, our self-image is brightened, our capacity for joy expands, our body releases tightness, we feel hopeful, we feel worthy.
I know when I am “in tolerance” (it sounds like “intolerance” doesn’t it?) instead of “in Acceptance”. Tolerance makes me angry, hard, impatient, inflexible. Tolerance keeps me in a loop of blaming, probably shaming too, and resentment. I am “against” instead of “with”.
It feels the same when I am being tolerated instead of accepted. Does that feel familiar? Can you feel the difference?
You might argue that “tolerance is better than intolerance!”. I believe there isn’t actually much difference between them in their essence. Both can be as damaging. There certainly is a big difference in the way(s) they are expressed. Tolerance usually has a passive-aggressive tone to it, as in, for example, “I really don’t mind you being a lesbian but couldn’t you just get married, have kids and have mistresses on the side? It’s done a lot, you know!” (True story.)
Intolerance is openly aggressive. It sounds like this “If it were up to me, all Jews would be sent back to the gas chambers.” (Also true story). Both these comments hurt, made me feel unsafe and angry and contributed to my building of a strong protective wall around my sensitivity. I became tough and guarded. I did not show (all of) my real Self. So much so that when Acceptance came (and she did regularly too, I know that now), I didn’t actually recognise her. I mostly dismissed her. My thick wall could not contain the strong emotions Acceptance was provoking in me so, instead of blowing off the wall, which felt way too dangerous, I kept the emotions at bay outside the wall. It is difficult to feel fully welcome and praised for who you really are when you don’t know how that feels.
It took me a long time to believe what Acceptance was telling and showing me but eventually I did. I am still careful and my guard, although down most of the time, is ready to pop up anytime when I need it. For example, every time I speak about my wife (as a woman married to another woman) to people that I don’t know, my finger is gently resting on the “fence up” button until I receive Acceptance. And I do, oh so often and every time it feels like a miracle has happened! Then I relax, I rejoice and I savour the sensations. It’s wonderful. That’s what feeling Acceptance — feeling Accepted — did to me. It allowed me to let my guard down so that I could open up and receive “the good stuff” and be touched, softened, transformed, healed and grown by it.
This is also what I do in my work. Love Acceptance is the most potent and transformative aspect; it’s a stance really, of how I work with my clients. I have a toolkit that I share, I have practices that I recommend, alternatives and a field of possibilities that we explore and all these rest in the rich and nourishing soil of Love Acceptance.
For almost three years I am privileged to be in a loving supportive relationship where I receive and give of Love Acceptance on a daily basis. I am a new woman emerging and I feel grateful for it every day. Can you imagine how the world — how we all would look and feel if we all learned and practised Love Acceptance as a conscious way of living together? I can and I am longing for it and working at it. Will you?
If you would like to learn more about Love Acceptance, about healthy and happy relationships or to book an exploratory session with me, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a free consultation and discuss your specific needs. I would love to speak with you and see how my work can support you.
 Thomas Corneille, in L’Inconnu, 1645.
 This proverb is of Dutch origin, and is first recorded in The Ancient Law Merchant published in 1622.
Find out more about Haya on her page.