Let us suppose that someone you know has made life choices you do not agree with. They’ve chosen to go barefoot all year long. You disagree with this choice. You think it is wrong, dangerous, and goes against all you’ve been taught to think about caring for your feet. What are you to do? What can you do? It isn’t proper to tell someone else how to live their life. Neither is it proper to condemn a person because they made choices different than yours.
Here is where I have seen so much confusion in the news and in speaking with people. Accepting someone for who they are and approving of what they do are two very different things, however, they are conflated when people talk about tolerance and intolerance. What does it mean to accept them?
Acceptance is what you do with the way things are now. Acceptance means that you adjust your expectations to match the reality of a situation. You might want that close friend to wear shoes, but that doesn’t match the reality of their choices. So you accept the fact they are barefoot. You can even hope that one day they will wear shoes, but today they are barefoot and that is who they are. You accept this is who they are.
Accepting them for who they are, still allows you to love them, even if you disagree with their choices. The choice could be anything really: smoking, drinking, drugs, gambling, etc. Pick anything you feel is wrong, dangerous, or otherwise goes against your personal code of morality.
Perhaps this is the point where the complication and confusion set in. If your morals disapprove of someone else’s actions, the zeitgeist calls you intolerant. Is that the case? Acceptance in human psychology is a person’s recognizing a condition without attempting to change or protest it. Approval means that you agree that something is good. Let’s take smoking. You accept that your friend smokes, that is part of who they are. But accepting that they smoke does not mean you approve of smoking.
Here is where things get hazy if you are not paying close enough attention. I can disapprove of smoking as an action, but that does not mean I am disapproving of an individual who smokes. I must accept they smoke, even I do not approve of their choices.
Acceptance and approval are not synonyms.
Acceptance is acknowledging reality, approval is wholly an internal affair. It is between you and your conscience and no one else. You cannot change the lives of another person. They are as they chose to be. You can still love people, even if your conscience disagrees with what they do.
Acceptance and approval separate people from choices. This is the point where the zeitgeist is wrong. I’ll get real for a moment. I have family members who smoke. I love them. I’ve loved them since I was old enough to know them. They are my family. But I hate smoking. I find it a dirty habit with real health consequences, but I don’t hate my family because they smoke. Acceptance and approval mean you can separate the two things, the person from the choice.
It actually takes an extreme amount of tolerance to do this. Loving people while disagreeing with their life choices requires you to accept them for who they are without judging them for what they do. That is the very nature of tolerance. It is the ability to slice away a choice you disagree with from a human being you accept for who they are. It takes hard work to get your brain to understand you can separate the two.