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Couple Chat: Acceptance and Tolerance

February 18, 2014

By Ana and Mario Vela

Ana and Mario Vela with their four dogs.

Photograph by Jennifer Shaffer Photography

In the Couple Chat series, we pose one or two topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s response and the couple discusses their thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion together in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked expectant parents Ana and Mario Vela about acceptance and tolerance. Here’s what they said.

In your opinion, what is the difference between acceptance and tolerance?
Ana: I believe acceptance is more positive than tolerance. When I think of tolerance, I think about understanding that some people will have a negative outlook on life and others, and that we cannot change their way of thinking. To me acceptance is essential in this life because there are several factors we cannot change about ourselves (our skin color, our gender), and there are beliefs that we are raised to follow (religious, cultural), that are not meant to be harmful to anyone else. We have to accept people in those areas, and tolerate people who wish to cause harm to others.

Mario: Acceptance is the belief and approval of other opinions, practices, and people. Tolerance is a fair perspective and an attitude to endure towards other opinions, practices, and people.

Acceptance is stronger than tolerance and takes a deeper level of understanding. Tolerance is more a behavior to coexist with others, rather than believing in the lifestyle or characteristics of others.

How would you teach acceptance and tolerance to a child?
Ana: I am Latino, and while growing up as a child in a very diverse neighborhood, my parents were constantly dictating what kind of people I should not associate with. This was based on their observances from not experiencing diversity prior to their first years in the United States. I didn’t understand why my parents were so negative, and in class my teacher would encourage acceptance.

I ended up becoming friends with kids from all ethnic backgrounds, and I eventually introduced them to my parents so they could see that these kids were no different than we were. Ultimately, I ended up teaching my parents about acceptance and have changed their way of thinking.

I believe I would not have to teach acceptance to my child, as it is something children are born with and if I model it myself then it will continue. I don’t believe I will need to teach my child about tolerance until he or she experiences hate for the first time (I had to learn when I experienced racism as a young child), in which I do not look forward to informing him or her that some people do not understand the concept of acceptance and that my child will continue to meet others as he or she grows up.

Mario: I would teach my child through modeling behavior-- demonstrating acceptance of others and tolerance of others. However, it’s important that the child understands he or she does not have to be tolerant or accepting of all others. Protesting is fair.

Also, I can provide examples through media and experiences. I can expose my child to other SES, religions, forms of education, and countries. By exposing him or her to others’ lives, my child can be more aware of differences and more accepting and tolerant of other ways of living.

Ana: After sharing our answers, Mario disagreed with me in that tolerance is not always negative, but rather it can be a neutral situation. And further, he believes tolerance is a first step to acceptance. We came up with a couple of examples, and I can see his point of view.

I grew up in Virginia in a very diverse neighborhood, then moved to Laredo, TX and Mexico where there was no diversity—it was predominantly Mexican American. The lack of diversity was a culture shock to me, and going from middle class to poverty was also difficult, but those are the experiences that have shaped who I am.

Mario did not grow up experiencing diversity, so he strongly believes that exposing our child to these experiences through travel and media will help shape their way of thinking, which I agree with.

I like how Mario had very practical ways of teaching acceptance and tolerance to our child, and I never even thought about empowering our child to find ways to change society if he or she does not want to tolerate certain situations. This was a great exercise as we had not thought about this topic before, and it made us realize that we have so much to teach our child.

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