By Teresa González
Using the word tolerance in the context of diversity and inclusion is common, but society should strive for something greater than mere tolerance: acceptance. While tolerance is perceived as a virtue, it implies a position of superiority. One in which someone displays a permissive attitude towards someone else; their behavior, attitudes, beliefs, etc. Tolerating others means that one is willing to let them show who they are; even though one can tolerate others without respecting or acknowledging their dignity as individuals. Tolerance is a first step in the sense that the number of conflicts that arise may decrease because of it, yet inclusion means something else.
Inclusion entails acceptance. Acceptance places individuals on the same level. It means that one respects the other without attempting to change something, without rejection. Acceptance cannot happen without tolerance, but there can be tolerance without acceptance. Therefore, acceptance is a step further. It suggests open mindedness. As Kim Samuel pointed out at the Doha Goals Forum, “A more tolerant society is not enough. We must do more than let people be; we have to let people in.” Letting people in is what inclusion is about. Tolerating our differences is not enough, we must work on genuine acceptance to create an inclusive society. One in which everyone is valued and feels a sense of belonging.
The contrast between these two terms is easily understood if we ask ourselves whether we would like the significant people in our lives to tolerate or to accept us. When we are accepted, we are not judged. Acceptance means embracing who the other is; differences included. When our differences are embraced, valued, and appreciated; we become stronger together, and that is inclusion. When we think of others tolerating us, the implication is that we are not measuring up to their standards, that there is something inherently wrong with us, and that others must put up with our imperfections. As David See-Chaim Lam puts it, “tolerance implies that the tolerator has the power to not tolerate,” but aren’t we all equally valuable as individuals?
Since 2015, inclusive education is a priority in the global agenda. Nations all over the world are making efforts to ensure that access to quality education is equitable. When a community decides to embark on the inclusion journey, it should not be within the context of tolerance, but rather in the one of acceptance and respect; one in which all individuals are appreciated. In the words of Lisa Friedman, “Inclusion is a mindset. It is a way of thinking. It is not a program that we run, or a classroom in our school, or a favor we do for someone. Inclusion is who we are. It is who we must strive to be. It is the right thing to do. Period.” Inclusion is not a benevolent act that we do for someone else. To equate inclusion to tolerance is restricting and demeaning. Inclusion is much more than tolerance. It is acceptance. It is respect. It is understanding.