Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why I Prefer Respect over Tolerance


Lately, I’ve been noticing society preach the idea of tolerance. Teaching kids tolerance for all peoples in spite of who they are. Tolerance for college students caught out of their comfort zone. Tolerance to teach people to move beyond hatred and dislike of certain groups.

It’s a great idea but I want something deeper. Something that goes beyond tolerating a person’s differing opinion or belief. Something that goes into understanding that person regardless of their journey yet seeing them as worthy of your equal.

I’m talking about respect.
By definition, you tolerate something you don’t like. You tolerate someone’s bad habits, bad behavior, tendencies because you see more to them. So in theory, we teach tolerance as a great idea because it sounds right. You tolerate someone in spite of their faults or opinions. 

But I don’t want that. It’s too simplistic and problematic. Tolerating something doesn’t mean you’ll always take time to understand it. A parent tolerates their child’s behavior or music preferences not because they like it, but they let them be until necessary to check them.

Tolerance - a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward opinions and practices that differ from one's own. (Dictionary.com)

Tolerance doesn’t go deep enough on the surface. At least in its basic definition, it’s a word that sounds nice and encouraging but it practices the same surface level understanding we’ve lived with for hundreds of years. Tolerate certain aspects of someone or some culture without searching for something deeper that gives you context and understanding.

That’s where respect comes in.

If we teach each other respect, it allows you to see the person as who they are. An independent thinking individual. A person who you can look in the eye and say “I don’t agree with you, but I respect you because you stand up for your beliefs and you convinced me with how shared them.” Respect doesn’t mean agree but because it is earned, it goes deeper because it requires more of you and your thought process. 



Respect - esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person (Dictionary.com)

For example, I respect a lot of my friends and folks I follow on Twitter. They may not agree with my points of view and vice versa, but we come to a happy medium and find common ground in our differences. We seek to understand each other and we may not see eye to eye, but when I see them on a deeper level, it allows me to pursue further engagement.

You often hear how folks respect folks they don’t like? That’s a whole lot better than tolerating someone’s presence. The attractiveness of respecting someone takes more work and a renewed way of seeing their person before their mind.

So how do we respect someone we don’t agree with? It’s simple. Talk with each other. Talk to each other. Respect requires trust and if you think that’s hard to give a stranger, consider we do it daily on a micro-level. We trust somebody not to run us off the road. People do it on an airplane making small talk.

You respect somebody by not starting off going right into fiery questions but just seeing how intelligent, good-natured they are.  You respect somebody looking for common interests and finding things to agree on instead of disagree.

Tolerance and respect can work together in my mind. But too often we leave one - usually respect - in place of the other.
I saw this firsthand learning about it in college and being involved in multicultural clubs. Tolerating differences was encouraged but it implied that people could simply share the same space without being aware of who’s in it (Respect means acknowledging who shares your space).

In closing, society would be better if we tried to respect, understand and listen to each other. Whether it be racial/ethnic differences, gay rights issues or cultural challenges, we could be better off educating ourselves and our children if we taught ourselves to respect even if you do or don’t agree.

Tolerance without respect seems hollow more often that not. Without the deeper appreciation and trust that comes with respect, it’s a first step without a resolution.

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