two blue and yellow labeled cans

The Difference Between Tolerance and Acceptance

We often use the words tolerance and acceptance, it isn’t even jargon to us! These words carry everyday meanings in everyday conversations and are quite regularly used interchangeably. However, both these words denote different things and under them, come a variety of attitudes and perceptions about the world. 


So let’s unpack them one by one. What does tolerance mean? The Cambridge dictionary defines tolerance as: “willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from your own, although you might not agree with or approve of them.” Thus, to tolerate or to be tolerant means indicating that you are willing to accept people who do not align with your own belief system. While this is better than rejecting difference altogether, tolerance does not quite cover the distance between registering difference and finally being inclusive. Tolerance can still allow for existing prejudices to remain without becoming overtly visible. While having tolerant attitudes goes a long way to create spaces that are multicultural and diverse, acceptance takes the inclusive mission of tolerance a bit further! 


So, what does acceptance really mean? According to the Cambridge dictionary, acceptance is “Acceptance of a person is the act of agreeing to that person’s becoming a member of an organization or group, or to that person’s belonging to your group as an equal.” What is key here is the treatment of a new person, a new member of one’s group as an equal. Treating people as one would expect to be treated oneself is a quality that only acceptance can provide, and upgrading a tolerant outlook to one that is accepting of others is key to having a space that is safe as well as inclusive for diversity. 

Acceptance is complete freedom from judgment, when you truly accept someone you can no longer be prejudiced towards them or approach their belief systems with your own. Acceptance means that the journey towards becoming an inclusive person is now oriented more towards understanding. Psychologists claim that while tolerance and acceptance are both desirable, they are only stepping stones towards understanding and it is in trying to understand other cultures, diverse belief systems, and varied opinions that real inclusivity and representation of diversity can be cultivated. 

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