Tolerate or Accept

“When we say that we tolerate a headache, or our shabby apartment, or a neighbour, we certainly do not mean that we like them; but merely that despite our dislike, we shall endure them.”


Consider some examples. We tolerate:

  • The colleague who talks too much;
  • The long commute to work;
  • The critical hard-driving boss;
  • The family member who never lets us forget an old mistake; and
  • Those whose skin tone, accent, and/or behaviour is different than ours… conveniently forgetting that in many parts of the world, we are being tolerated.

And while judgment (in the sense of discernment) is crucial when it comes to assessing whether something or someone is good or bad for us, when we slap judgment on other people, it tends to be a value judgment, carrying notions of right/wrong, good/bad, etc. As such, it destroys compassion, empathy and understanding, plus it fills us with a sense righteousness and false power.

Judgment reveals itself in disdain; and unless we are consummate actors, disdain is impossible to hide. Something in our demeanour or in our expression leaks disparagement and scorn… without us being aware of it.

Often, we tell ourselves we can do nothing about another person’s behaviour or a given situation… which may or may not be true. Of greater concern, however, is our emotional response to tolerating; because generally, it means we’re either hardening ourselves to the behaviour, situation, or person, or we’re resigning ourselves to it. Both of these responses stifle the human spirit.

When we harden ourselves, we create an inner column of unhappiness. Think about it: We’ve all met hard-hearted people; and really, did any of them seem happy to you? Hardening ourselves is probably not the best route to take.

On the other hand, if we throw up our hands and resign ourselves, we add weight to our life in a kind of shoulders-slumping way. Resignation casts a pall on our spirits; it keeps us trapped in thinking that this or that can never be accepted, and it causes a sticking point that keeps us from being at ease.

So, how do we get past tolerating someone or something?
How do we accept people, behaviours, and situations as they are?

Well, try a little exercise.

Look in the mirror. Are you the ideal (however you define it)? Do you see perfect skin, a perfect nose, perfect teeth, perfect hair? Likely not.

You likely see someone with some nice features and some imperfections. Now, ask yourself this: Have those imperfections hardened you? Have they resigned you to living a less than satisfying life?

Likely (and hopefully) not.

You’ve learned to accept them.

Tolerate or Accept. Image of people of various background, gender and age.

The process of developing a healthy relationship with oneself involves genuinely accepting more and more of our flaws and imperfections – not just the physical ones, but, importantly, the mental/emotional/psychological ‘imperfections’.

An even healthier version of our relationship with ourselves would entail a recognition that perfection should not and cannot be the goal. In fact, some of what we might initially think of as our imperfections could become our ‘superpowers’ if we learn to embrace them.

Applying these same principles to other people can help us make the same transition with them: from merely (and barely) tolerating them to genuinely accepting them.

This is not to say that you can’t ask certain people to behave differently with you if the behaviour in question is painful for you, but it is to say that there is value in challenging our initial harsh judgment of another person. There is value in trying to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and asking ourselves why this person might legitimately behave this way.

None of us can read another person’s mind, and none of us can infer a person’s history, but when we take the time to consider their circumstances and remind ourselves that we don’t know what came before this moment, we are more likely to find a path to acceptance.

When we tolerate rather accept something or someone, we are filled with a kind of inner disappointment. For in applying one set of standards to ourselves, and another set to others, we have not found ease and kindness.

It is within each of us to do better.

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