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The strange truth about tolerating and accepting you

Jan 10, 2012, 6 a.m.

Tolerance and acceptance. Those are reactions to how we judge a person, an event or a situation. To understand the difference between tolerance and acceptance, let's first take a look at what judging is all about.

It's a strangely curious fact of human behavior that we tend to judge almost everything we perceive and encounter. Yet we seldom realize how thoroughly judgmental we are.

Our need to judge people, events and situations is hard-wired into our genes and our brains. For example, if you're walking down a dark road at night and notice a movement in the bushes, you'll immediately and automatically try to classify and judge that movement. Is it an animal? A person? Does it pose a threat? We make those instantaneous judgments so we can decide to fight and defend ourselves, to flee from danger or to ignore the movement altogether.

However, our judgments go far beyond choosing between fight and flight. We are the species that has taken judgment to the max, making it perhaps the central aspect of being human.

We have an opinion and a judgment on virtually everything, and continuously project our likes and dislikes on the people, situations and events around us. But even more, we also place expectations on people and situations. When we don't get the outcomes we anticipate, we're quick to judge those people and situations — often times harshly.

For example: I flew across country, checked into a hotel and called my daughter who I had come to visit. She was "busy" that day and asked if I could come see her tomorrow. If I'd placed expectations on the event (seeing my daughter after many months of separation), or if I'd placed expectations on my daughter (expecting her to see me virtually the moment I got off the plane), I would have been disappointed. I would have blamed her for my disappointment. After all, I flew across country to see her. Why would she tell me she's "busy?" However, by not placing expectations on our reunion, I avoided disappointment and avoided blaming her for her busy-ness.

And that brings us right back to how we can understand and choose tolerance versus acceptance. We can choose to tolerate, for example, being parents of gays. It's about our beloved child who "didn't turn out right." We can somehow find it in our hearts to tolerate him or her. After all, they're our flesh and blood, right? But as we make the choice to merely tolerate, we are judging and placing expectations on him or her, preferring that our child should have been heterosexual.

However, accepting being gay is a far healthier alternative. Here, we can welcome the reality that our child is happy. That he or she has someone in their adult life they can deeply love, enjoy and laugh with. We can take a few moments to banish the disappointment and sadness based on our expectations, on our judgment of what being gay is like. Instead of tolerating we can choose to accept. That person is our child, right? We have always loved him or her, right? Parents of gays only have a tough time if they fail to accept. Accepting being gay — rather than judging, placing expectations on our kids and simply tolerating — brings peace, love and caring.

After all, we have only love and fear here in our lives on planet Earth. Choosing love, acceptance and not judging is the clear winner and far better alternative. The strange truth about tolerating and accepting is that, in spite of being the "animal that judges," we can choose the path of warmth, caring, acceptance and love. When we do that, pain, fear and conflict disappear.

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