I recently had an interesting discussion on tolerance, prompted by a remark of mine that my partner and I have entirely different religious views. “How can you like someone whose ideas are so radically different,” I was asked. This brought me to consider what tolerance and acceptance mean to me. We’re hardwired to notice differences between ourselves and strangers. Survival instincts tell us that someone who resembles ourselves in terms of skin color, appearance, clothing, language, and behavior is less likely to be a threat than someone who is different. However, as socialized human beings, we can’t go around acting on instinct without creating even more danger to ourselves. We have to do reality checks!
Multiple realities exist simultaneously. If you don’t believe it, consider that someone who is walking away from me in your direction is walking toward you at the same time. Those are both true realities but only from a given viewpoint. Why would anyone expect to do nothing but share the same opinions throughout a relationship? That would make it impossible to learn new things, gain new insights, or just hone our wits against someone else’s. Recognizing that you share values and emotional needs with another, even if you differ on how to express those values or needs, is critical in acceptance of other points of view. And acceptance is what we all need.