Tolerance or Acceptance: A Balanced Approach

The following is a response to two articles; one from columnist Taslim Jaffer who wrote an article entitled Building Bridges: Tolerance is Beneath Us and the second, a letter to the editor of Peace Arch News titled Christians More than Accepting by Surrey resident Patricia Kroeker, both of which can be read here)
The other day, while enjoying my morning coffee, I came across what appeared to be two very different perspectives on what is rapidly becoming Canada’s most talked about distinguishing feature; diversity and how we as Canadians interact with this increasingly complex phenomenon.
Taslim Jaffer accurately defines tolerance as something or someone to be endured with forbearance despite it being unpleasant; to the one tolerating, that is. Follow this definition with a quick glance over Patricia Kroeker’s letter and it seems that Kroeker, and in her view, all Canadian Christians are doing precisely what Jaffer finds so repelling; tolerating minorities. For Jaffer, this just isn’t good enough and for Kroeker, it’s just about all she can do given her apparent disdain or at best, discomfort, with non-Christian and (presumably) non-European immigrants and refugees to Canada. And so it seems an impasse has manifested and we know not where to go from here, if anywhere.
Although not initially obvious, looking at diversity, inclusivity and interfaith matters through the either-or paradigm of tolerance OR acceptance will likely yield little or no benefit to those for whom this issue is relevant and important. I would love to ask both Jaffer and Kroeker a question that I ask myself each and every day as I interact with a world full of people with whom I agree and resonate with as well as others who just don’t seem to see things the way I do:
Is it possible for me to accept, even embrace people who have views, cultural traits, values, customs, habits, beliefs, etc. that are vastly different from my own – even antithetical to my own? 
I cannot speak for Ms. Jaffer or Ms. Kroeker but for myself, the answer to the above is a resounding, unequivocal YES! Does this mean that I must accept all those views, cultural traits, customs, values, etc. that are so different from mine? Most certainly, not; some things will undoubtedly have to be merely tolerated. I can, however accept the person behind those “barely tolerable masks” can I not? In order to accept and even embrace someone, must he conform to my particular, personal paradigm, be it spiritual or otherwise? Perhaps there is a subtler, more refined way of accepting another fellow human being while not necessarily embracing every aspect or part of what makes up that person.
To remove any ambiguity, I should state that I am a practicing, Sunnite Muslim which entails both orthopraxy in practice and orthodoxy in belief. Before you try to fit me into any sort of cozy category of what you might think an adult Muslim male should be, know this: One of our best family friends is a gay couple whom we love dearly and yet I remain uncompromisingly committed to my traditional religious beliefs about family and gender. A colleague and friend of mine is a staunch atheist who believes people of religion, especially Jews, Christians and Muslims, to be mentally ill and yet we thoroughly enjoy hiking together and dining at our favourite local restaurants. One of my wife’s most wonderful and brilliant students is an Evangelical Christian who believes that the only route to heaven is via the ‘Ladder of The Cross’ and yet our respective families regularly break bread together and yes…our children even freely play together!
Perhaps this response need not have been so long as it can summarized quite succinctly in the following sentence: So long as we look at each other through the limiting lens of social/racial/creedal/cultural/ethnic categories we will inevitably be exposed to how different they are from us. And conversely, if we can get past the worldly “boxes” we corner people into (Muslim, Christian, Jew, Black, Indian, Aboriginal, Chinese, atheist, homosexual) then maybe we can actually accept and embrace them while politely, in a most Canadian fashion, tolerate from them, that which we find to be just barely tolerable. Our society, indeed the world, is rapidly changing around us and our ability to tolerate AND accept our differences will be the determining factor, I believe, in measuring a society’s social cohesion and its commitment to diversity, cultural sensitivity and the scope of inclusivity.

By Jamil Popatia, Vancouver, B.C.

Originally published on