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The difference between tolerance and respect

My UU minister brought up the topic of respect a few weeks ago, saying that it went further than tolerance. I’d like to examine this subject up close.

First, a couple of definitions (from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, New College Edition, 1976):

  • tolerance: The capacity for or practice of allowing or respecting the nature, beliefs, or behavior of others.
  • respect: 1. A feeling of deferential regard; honor; esteem. 2. The state of being regarded with honor or esteem. 3. Willingness to show appreciation or consideration.

I don’t know how useful these definitions are; we have the word “respect” referenced in the definition for “tolerance.” Still, I think we can get something out of this, in the sense that “honor or esteem” seems stronger than “allowing.” Or is that just me?

So respect does go further than tolerance. So which one should we strive for? I’m going to go with “respect,” not that I think tolerance is bad – take that, Tolerance Dissers – but that respect is better.

So let’s examine what “respect” looks like:

  • It honors the other person’s beliefs.
  • It doesn’t ask the other person to change their beliefs or make disparaging remarks about them (some will have a problem with this).
  • It accepts the other person’s beliefs as they are.

“But wait a minute,” some will cry. “What about the Taliban? They want to kill us!” The Taliban (as an example) are not exactly respecters of divergent beliefs themselves. The desire to kill people who don’t believe the way you do should not be tolerated or respected. Similarly, if your beliefs mandate that you go around trying to convert everyone else to those beliefs, we have a problem.

As Rodney King once said, can’t we all just get along?

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One thought on “The difference between tolerance and respect

  1. I’m fine with your sense of respect, but the word I generally use is “acceptance.” We don’t just tolerate you, we accept you. But we don’t tolerate, accept or respect all behavior. If you break, or want to break, our compact of mutual acceptance, you are not welcome here.

    Liked by 1 person

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