I was working with a leadership development group on the topic of conflict and was using a colleague’s slides.
I put up a slide (which I’d sadly missed when running through the materials, seeing somehow) that suggested a session norm of “develop a tolerance for others’ beliefs and norms.”
While my first thought was How did I miss this awful slide?, the class’s reaction made me glad I’d missed it.
The class took a turn into chaos, which is a great ally for learning. Some participants were offended by the word tolerance, others didn’t understand what was wrong.
The root meaning of the word tolerance is a person’s ability to bear pain. So if I proclaim how tolerant I am, I’m citing my ability to bear the pain of others’ differences.
Tolerance is condescending. It’s most often touted by the dominant group within a culture, organization, or bureaucracy (like school systems). Being on the receiving end of being tolerated is rarely uplifting.
When we’re responsible for leading others, we need to move past the limitations of tolerance toward acceptance. The word acceptance evolved from words meaning to receive willingly. How much more powerful and inclusive is that than tolerance?
I tolerate your difference, I accept our difference. Which position promotes better understanding?
When we grow comfortable with acceptance, we can progress to celebrating our differences—the deepest meaning of celebrate to is assemble to honor.
What if our workplaces celebrated our differences? What if schools moved from tolerance of difference to a celebration?
When we start changing the language we use, our understanding will follow. Acceptance and celebration are for people. Tolerance is for injuries.
BTW, the class agreed to change the slide to acceptance. That moment was a turning point and well worth the chaos that got us there.
Today’s guest contributor is Mac Bogert, founder of AZA Learning, which provides leadership coaching and learning design support.
Image credit: Pixabay