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Friday, January 31, 2014

To Tolerate or Embrace: What to Do About Differences?

In a recent blog post (When Tolerance isn't Tolerance, which you can read here), I wrote about the concept of tolerance needing to be a two way street if it's to be considered tolerance at all.

I chose that word as it was being thrown around in the hoo-haw surrounding the "Natalie Grant leaving the Grammys early" situation that happened last Sunday night.  I could have used other words, such as "equality, empathy, understanding, or acceptance, etc."  They would have all worked.


No matter which one I chose, however, the same concept applies:  if we demand a level of understanding and acceptance we are not willing to extend in equal measures to others, we are on dodgy ground, indeed.

A dear, almost life-long, friend of mine, commented on that blog post. . .agreeing with the general concepts I was espousing, but a little uncomfortable with the word 'tolerate.'  She doesn't want to tolerate and be tolerated; she wants to embrace and be embraced in the fullness of who she is.

My initial reaction was to agree wholeheartedly with her opinion.  It's the very heart of the human condition to want to be fully and utterly accepted and loved for the unique makeup that is 'us.'  I don't want to be 'tolerated' either. . .I want to be fully embraced for who and what I am. . .complex little creature though I may be.

But after thinking it through. . .I'm not sure that's possible.  At least not if you use some definitions of the word.

According to Merriam Webster's website, "embrace" can mean many different things:

  1. to put one's arms around and press tightly 
  2. to surround or cover closely 
  3. to take for one's own use 
  4. to receive or accept gladly or readily
  5. to have as part of a whole
  6. to form a circle around 

If we're talking definitions 1, 2, 5, and 6, I think I'm on board.  I have no trouble with supporting, protecting, and sharing life's journey with people who are different from me in any way.  

But numbers 3 and 4 are a stickler for me.  If your definition of 'embrace' implies agreement, or acceptance as in 'endorsement,' then, no, I don't think I could.

And for that matter, I don't think anyone could.

Tolerance is built into the very fabric of human relationships, whether we like to admit it or not.  

For example, I absolutely love my wonderful husband.  I accept him for who he is, imperfections and all, and love him without reservation.  But even then, I can only stretch myself to tolerate some parts of his character, nature, and behavior.

He snores, for instance.  And he's a huge Elvis fan (I am NOT).  He watches sports too quietly, too, which I do not appreciate because it makes me feel uncomfortable when I hoot like a maniac.  He and I don't always agree on how to handle certain situations, either. . .despite me clearly being in the right.  :)

But I tolerate those aspects of him, and many others, and love him unconditionally despite where we diverge.

If we're being brutally honest, I think we all do that with each other.  Children, spouses, parents, siblings and friends can all be loved deeply and profoundly without complete agreement.  And, the fact is, what we don't agree on, we must tolerate in one another in order to remain in relationship. 

After all, the person who has an aspect of their being that you have to tolerate has to tolerate you, too.

And I don't think that's wrong.  So long as you embrace the heart and inherent value of a person, I think it's natural that some tolerating is going to happen somewhere around the edges. . .especially with 'big ticket' items like religion, ethics, politics, personal convictions, etc.

So I guess, after further consideration, I retract my earlier total agreement on the 'embracing' issue and replace it with a qualified one.

You'll tolerate that, won't you? 




(photo courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net and can be found here)

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