What is TnA?
In no uncertain terms, I like tolerance and acceptance (stylized as T & A, T’n’A, or simply TnA). This is in contrast to bigotry, disapproval, and enmity (stylized as BDE), which I don’t prefer though accept nonetheless.
Merriam-Webster defines tolerance as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own” and “the act of allowing something.” In this way, tolerance is simply the act of not opposing something and instead leaving it undisturbed.
Likewise, Merriam-Webster defines acceptance as “the quality or state of being accepted or acceptable” and “the act of accepting something or someone.” To avoid circular definition, it may be important to define the root of the word acceptance.
Merriam-Webster defines accept as the act of giving “admittance or approval to” something and the ability “to endure without protest or reaction.” Given this understanding, acceptance relates to one’s capacity to allow something without rejection of its existence.
REBT and TnA
TnA are quite similar, which may cause some confusion as to why I differentiate between one and the other. Thinking of it in the following way may help clear up one’s misunderstanding of my framing.
Though I can’t fully understand what meaningful purpose they serve, mosquitos exist nonetheless. Depending on the source, mosquito-borne diseases are said to kill from 725,000 to 830,000 people per year.
Despite my tolerance, I don’t take active measures to accept mosquitos into my home by giving them unfettered access to my residence. Still, by use of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I also do not use a rigid condition related to my acceptance of mosquitos.
Suppose I were to use a condition with my acceptance of mosquitos. I might say something like, “I will accept that mosquitos exist only if they never bother me.”
Think of a condition like a should, must, or ought-type statement. I may tell myself, “I will accept that mosquitos exist only if they never bother me; therefore, they must never inconvenience me.”
What happens when I eventually encounter a mosquito that knows nothing of my demand and likely wouldn’t care even if it understood my underlying belief? I’d likely be disturbed into anger by the fact that my belief about the world was violated.
Therefore, I practice unconditional life-acceptance to resolve this conundrum. It’s important to know that with unconditional self-, other-, and life-acceptance, I’m not advocating that one must like or love something.
Instead, I’m suggesting that in order to achieve a higher level of functioning and improved quality of life, it may be necessary to merely accept one’s powerlessness to change the only thing one can actually change—one’s own self. In this case, changing one’s beliefs may be helpful.
Rather than unwaveringly insisting that mosquitos must not annoy me, I could reason, “While I’d prefer that mosquitos didn’t exist, and given that I will likely encounter them at some point, I will accept that I have no power to eradicate them on mass. Therefore, I can tolerate that they are an inconvenient fact of life.”
Other perspectives of TnA
Though I enjoy TnA quite a bit, others may not. In fact, some people outright oppose TnA.
From a spiritual or religious standpoint, one source argues:
In the classical era, Christians acknowledged that there were different religions and beliefs and accepted that people had the right to choose which belief they wanted to be in. However, in the modern-day view of tolerance, acceptance is not only a matter of respecting other religions, but also accepting they are right and true.
Per my understanding of this proposal, tolerance of other perspectives infers acknowledgement of the accuracy and truth of other faiths. It would seem as though such TnA would negate the utility of Christianity.
After all, if all spiritual or religious faiths are right and true, why differentiate between Judaism, Mormonism, Buddhism, or Hinduism? Given this perspective, one may understand why some religious people may not tolerate or accept other faiths.
It may now be useful to define bigotry, disapproval, and enmity. Firstly, Merriam-Webster defines bigotry as “obstinate or intolerant devotion to one’s own opinions and prejudices.”
Next, Merriam-Webster defines disapproval as “the act of disapproving” and holding “unfavorable opinion or judgment.” Again addressing circular definition, the same source defines disapprove as passing “unfavorable judgment on” or refusing “approval to” something.
Lastly, Merriam-Webster defines enmity as “a very deep unfriendly feeling,” akin to “hatred” for something. BDE, as framed herein, constitutes intolerant judgement in alignment with a hateful perspective.
Thinking about violence carried out in the name of spiritual or religious practices, one may cite numerous instances whereby BDE played a key role. It would seem as though some ideologically-driven perspectives are in direct opposition to TnA.
Still, not all who maintain differing TnA perspectives promote BDE. One source carefully differentiates between tolerance and acceptance by use of demonstrative sentences which highlight why tolerance apparently isn’t preferable to acceptance:
I tolerate Islamic people.
I tolerate homosexuality.
I tolerate atheistic people.
I tolerate people of different faiths.
I tolerate people of different cultures.
I tolerate people of different races of people.
…as opposed to…
I accept Islamic people.
I accept homosexuality.
I accept atheistic people.
I accept people of different faiths.
I accept people of different cultures.
I accept people of different races of people.
The source concludes:
When we take a look at acceptance versus tolerance we can see that acceptance carries a greater sense of reception and freedom for others to be themselves. In fact, it’s a step beyond tolerance that carries more humanity and ability to allow those around us who are different than us be themselves, without fears, and this is not a bad thing.
I recall advocacy for tolerance in the early 2000s, notably by way of the coexist image. I saw bumper stickers of the message not long after returning from service in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil—a place to which I paid homage in the illustration for this blogpost (that is also an intolerance detector).
Despite urging people to accept TnA prior to the turning of the 21st Century, the push for political correctness—with a focus on tolerance—is said to date back to the ‘70s. By happenstance, this correlates with the year in which I was born.
Promotion of tolerance for other religious practices, sexual orientations, cultures, and races is something with which I’ve grown up. Now, per the aforementioned source, acceptance is increasingly viewed as a good, humane, and freeing experience for people different to ourselves.
I can appreciate this perspective while also refraining from what I think is essentially a distinction without meaningful difference. I expect that many people will disagree with me on this matter.
Suppose I encounter a Bible-thumping, dyed in the wool evangelical Christian who expresses a belief different than my own. Whether I tolerate or accept the person’s belief makes little difference in my behavior.
With TnA, I can simply shrug off the difference in conviction and carry on about my day. For those who reject tolerance and demand I practice acceptance, such people neglect to practice either element of TnA.
I’m not beholden to the subjective labels of others. If someone thinks I’m bad, wrong, evil, or otherwise for merely tolerating something rather than accepting it, why would I disturb myself due to a difference of opinion?
To demonstrate precisely how intolerant and unaccepting some people may appear to be—even if presumably using BDE for an apparently benevolent cause—consider language used in a website designed for those who educate children. I use the word “educate” loosely in this regard.
Per the source, tolerance alludes to putting “up with something that is possibly painful, harmful, or is simply not wanted” and “means something that must be endured;” however, acceptance “promotes an environment of equity, mutual respect, and appreciation.”
I disagree with the framing of painful, harmful, and unwanted experience as it relates to tolerance. Moreover, I reject the promotion of equity. Nonetheless, I welcome respect and appreciation, though I certainly don’t demand it.
Teaching TnA from a dichotomous framework isn’t necessarily helpful (e.g., you’re either tolerant or you’re accepting). One can exercise either-or TnA, employ the use of both, reject either-or, or dismiss both altogether.
The final perspective I’ll offer herein relates to similar false dichotomy framing. According to one source:
Tolerance without acceptance leads to resentment.
Tolerance with acceptance leads to appreciation.
INtolerance without acceptance leads to conflict.
INtolerance with acceptance leads to creativity.
I can tolerate mosquitos or people with a different ideological perspective without resenting mosquitos, the people, or the process of tolerance without acceptance. As well, simply because I use TnA doesn’t mean I’ll appreciate whatever it is I tolerate and accept.
Likewise, if I’m intolerance and disapproving of certain insects or ideologues, it doesn’t mean that conflict will result. Further, if I don’t tolerate though I accept some insects or people, I fail to understand how “creativity” has much to do with this experience.
While other perspectives of TnA appear to be heavily impacted by bias, these differences to my own framework have little effect on how I practice REBT. For the reader’s benefit, it may be useful to provide an example of how TnA plays a role in how I work with clients.
While I may disagree with the framing of others, I don’t argue with the proposal that TnA are useful elements of a well-functioning society. Think about what comes to mind as you read the following perspective.
According to one source:
Tolerance is your willingness to endure the existence of opinions or behaviour you dislike or disagree with. Acceptance, on the other hand, is assenting and embracing someone or something you don’t like, without protesting and without trying to change them. You can tolerate something without accepting it, but cannot accept something without tolerating it.
As I asserted about tolerating mosquitos without accepting them into my home, this source seems to concur. What do you think about the proposal of being unable to accept something without tolerating it?
When working with clients regarding trauma, I find it useful to introduce the concept of low frustration tolerance (LFT). If LFT had a catch phrase, it would be something like, “I can’t stand it!” This speaks to tolerance.
Suppose I have a client who seeks treatment for an injury sustained in a mass shooting event, and I’ll refer to this imaginary person as Fernanda. Fernanda tells me that she “can’t stand” discussing the shooting, because “it’s unbearable!”
There are many approaches I could take to Fernanda’s care, not the least of which is unconditional acceptance. Given the framework of some other psychotherapeutic models, my advocacy for TnA may seem absurd.
Still, it isn’t as though Fernanda can alter the past. She can therefore unconditionally accept that the shooting took place. Likewise, talking about the event in the present doesn’t literally recreate the threat. Therefore, Fernanda would be invited to tolerate discomfort related to discussing the matter.
If Fernanda maintains the unhelpful belief, “I shouldn’t talk about the shooting, because I can’t tolerate remembering the event,” she will trust the belief-based instruction she’s issued to herself. In essence, Fernanda will delude herself into believing she can’t stand distress.
Fernanda may then be unable to accept what has already occurred without tolerating the reality of her past. When practicing REBT, I encourage client’s not to focus on what they think ought to be, though to consider what is.
Fernanda telling herself that she ought to practice intolerant avoidance may hamper her ability to ever accept her powerlessness to change the past. Consequently, Fernanda may remain stuck in the memory—a shadow of trauma—without being able to process the matter in a healthy way.
I would encourage Fernanda to tolerate discomfort and unconditionally accept life. She doesn’t have to claim the mindset of victimhood and remain tethered to an unfortunate event.
Suppose Fernanda chooses to tolerate discussion of the traumatic event though she refuses to unconditionally accept her past. She will continue disturbing herself over a shadow of yesteryear.
Now, what do you think of the claim, “You can tolerate something without accepting it, but cannot accept something without tolerating it”? From my perspective, TnA are useful in order to process trauma in a helpful and healthy manner (e.g., addressing LFT).
When we do not actively oppose something and instead leave it undisturbed, as well as allowing something without rejection of its existence, we may disturb ourselves less while improving the quality of our own lives. For instance, this can be accomplished by use of REBT when thinking about mosquitos.
Nevertheless, some people willfully reject TnA while instead embracing bigotry, disapproval, and enmity. Even seemingly benign differing perspectives of TnA may infer BDE. How is this helpful when considering one’s mental, emotional, and behavioral health?
Herein, I’ve demonstrated how I may approach working with a fictional client who instead of embracing BDE chose to use TnA in order to address the impact of trauma. While Fernanda is made-up, the method of treating her that’s described in this post is precisely how I work with actual clients.
What do you think of TnA? Do you reject my framing of the matter? I can accept it if you do.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—and who can help you strengthen your tolerance and acceptance, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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