Tolerance vs. Acceptance


Recently on my post entitled Half Full I spoke about self-acceptance and how our local dharma teacher offered his experience of how the best way he knew to practice self-acceptance was to practice acceptance of others.  When we’re practicing one, we’re practicing the other at the same time.  Self-acceptance and acceptance of others cannot be separated – they are interrelated.

As I’ve been thinking more about this teaching some thoughts have arisen.  Tolerance is not the same thing as acceptance.  I remember when I used to consider myself an accepting person when really what I did was tolerate people on the outside and judge them on the inside.  For me this took shape in the form of irritation as well.  I was constantly irritated by others, sometimes at really slight things.  What I’m realizing now is that I had genuine acceptance at times for some folks but most of the time my acceptance hinged on whether they were acting in a way that I approved of or made sense to me.  I had acceptance for others when things were easy and I didn’t have acceptance for others when things were hard.

And so it went: Acceptance of a friend who’s struggling, sure!  Acceptance of a driver who just cut me off, nope!  Acceptance of my husband who’s just washed the dishes, sure!  Acceptance of my husband who’s left all of his dirty clothes under the bed for the thousandth time, nope!  Acceptance of someone who I have loads in common with, sure!  Acceptance of someone who I have very little in common with, nope!  This type of system of separation is very common, albeit subconsciously.  Sure it’s easy to accept what we agree with but how well do we accept what we don’t agree with?


I’ve often heard that a very good indicator of the strength of our practice can be seen through our interactions with our family.  If we consider ourselves to be generally accepting let us go and spend some time with our family and see what happens!  I don’t know about you (although I suspect most of us share this) but up until only very recently whenever I spent time with my family I became internally pretty unglued fairly quickly.  I was consumed in judgement, irritation, and stress.  Thank goodness for impermanence, eh?  Things change!  And with the intention of self-understanding and diligent practice transformation is not just a possibility, it’s inevitable.

It’s important to keep in mind that acceptance is not a destination to be reached.  If we think we’ve gotten to the point where we have any teaching down and think there’s no work left we’ve missed something along the way.  Acceptance, like life, is a practice, an ongoing, unfolding journey.



2 thoughts on “Tolerance vs. Acceptance

  1. This applies to the word “tolerance” as it relates to all human interaction. Tolerance used to be sort of a buzz word for media to use when addressing race relations, homophobia, religious persecution, and so on. Acceptance, of ourselves and all others, is really the thing to strive for. Tolerance is just as you point out, shallow and hollow. It’s like a mask. Love this post!

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