I’ve been to quite a few meetings and conferences on the topic of bullying. Usually, by the end of the day, there is at least one speaker who states that we need to move beyond tolerance to “accepting and celebrating” differences. Sounds good right? Almost virtuous. I’ve even seen quotes like “tolerance is never enough” etched beautifully into benches, monuments and other select edifices. I wonder, though, why isn’t tolerance enough? Why must one accept someone else’s beliefs, behaviors, attitudes or lifestyle? In bully prevention workshops and curricula, is it necessary to include “accepting differences”? What if the difference (in lifestyle, beliefs or attitudes) goes against a student’s own morals or conscience? Why not instead insert “recognize and respect each other’s differences”? You see, we can require that in classrooms, schools and in civil societies. We can have rules about respecting others, and consequences when we don’t. I’m not sure we can have rules and consequences about accepting others. I mean what would they be?
So for my AHA moment… l think tolerance has gotten a bad rap. We need to go back to its definition. The one I think best reflects it in its most purest form is the one UNESCO offers (and I paraphrase):
Tolerance is respecting the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance is harmony in difference.
The Southern Poverty Law Center writes:
We view tolerance as a way of thinking and feeling — but most importantly, of acting — that gives us peace in our individuality, respect
for those unlike us, the wisdom to discern humane values and the courage to act upon them.
If we could get this spirit and viewpoint of tolerance infused in every bully/violence prevention curriculum, then I think teaching tolerance is enough.
Patti Cathers, LMSW, Director of Program and Volunteer Services