A few days ago, I had a meeting with a person that many people will qualify as a “leader” due to his top management position, his charisma and strong influence. I did not succeed to convince this interlocutor of the importance of my message. In other words, I was confronted with an invisible wall of rigidity and indifference in a fancy office. The meeting was short and ended up with another appointment scheduled in order to review a potential proposal I was supposed to send in the next few days. However, during this meeting, I felt very uncomfortable:
I felt alone, I felt tolerated but not accepted.
Obviously, I reflected on the situation and I thought: Who still thinks that humanities and education degrees are kind of useless? Who still thinks that engineering science degrees gives to some people super powers to overpass everybody? Who still think that a leader has the right to simply tolerate but not accept people’s intellectual differences? The positive aspect of such encounters is that it strongly pushes us to reflect on things that really matter: things that are essential such as tolerance, inclusion and acceptance. The good in that kind of situation is that it forces us to try to comprehend how such behavior still could prevail. The subtle rejection of ideas that each of us might have experienced one day is a difficult pill to swallow. Unfortunately, there is no miracle remedy to take in order to promote tolerance, or to be more accurate I should say promote acceptance.
Who wants to be tolerated?
Indeed, today it is not about being tolerated, but it is about being accepted. People do not want to be tolerated but they want to be accepted. Leaders must understand the fundamental difference between tolerance and acceptance. Everyone interchangeably uses these two words. Many definitions are available for these two terms that perfectly explain the huge difference between them. I will just summarize them in a personal way:
Tolerance is being in a cold room with someone next to you who perceives you as another human body that only has the right to exist. This is like being alone next to someone else with no connections whatsoever. This is like being viewed as “the other” that someone has to put up with: the other that someone has to endure. On the contrary, acceptance is being in a cold room with someone who sees you as a human being, so the cold of the room does not bother you anymore. This is being with somebody with whom you are willing to connect, share and build relationships. Acceptance is warming up, it is embracing people’s differences and refusing to be alone. Acceptance is willing to share your paths, abilities and destinies, no matter who you are and who you want to be.
Me And We: We are All Similar and Different
Leaders should move away from tolerance and towards acceptance because you don’t tolerate people, you accept them. As individuals and as a community we need to make our environment a more accepting place for everyone. We should welcome all differences and think about what we should do about all these differences at home, school and at work. We need to live with an attitude of acceptance, of welcoming people for who they are, instead of having an attitude of tolerance, which is an attitude of putting up with diversity.
For instance, in the workplace, we cannot build a healthy and dynamic culture if we do not accept people. Leaders need to have and to show a personal acceptance that will make a huge difference especially for people who usually fear rejection or disapproval. Great leaders appreciate people as human beings with their uniqueness and natural imperfections. They perceive people as human beings with emotions and do not view them like robots. Acceptance in leading is simply recognizing others and comprehending that it is an important step towards understanding.
We should try to stop pointing the finger at others for their differences and start thinking about how each of us can move towards positivity by establishing an accepting environment. Acceptance simply humanizes us and offers us life altering lessons. We should all be proud to be a unique human being with our own specificities.