Military Special Needs Network

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Why Tolerance Isn’t Tolerable

182072943I think that just about anyone who works in a nonprofit supporting a disenfranchised population has gone through a crash course of unacceptable words that must be removed from your vocabulary. I’m not talking about the standard curse or breach of etiquette, but the words that can specifically dehumanize the population you serve. Whether it’s learning the proper way to identify a specific race, or socioeconomic class, or whatever, you quickly learn what terms are okay and what terms are not okay. Unfortunately, the latter are usually the ones you discover with the help of your foot and your mouth.

I work for Kids Included Together (KIT), a nonprofit that empowers communities to meaningfully include children of all abilities. Specifically, our goal is to ensure that every child is given the same opportunities and experiences, regardless of their abilities, and to see that disability is realized as a natural way of life. Since I started working for KIT almost five years ago, I have definitely received a new set of four-letter words to forever banish form my tongue and mind. But there is one recently that has shown its deceptively beautiful face that no one ever told me was one of them. No, I have actually become so engrossed in this culture that hearing this word triggered a natural gut reaction of, “Eccchhh.”

That word is “tolerance.” Surprised? Of course, because tolerance is about letting people be who they are and not discriminating against them, right? Well, yes…but not really. While there are some definitions of tolerance that are quite strong and redeeming, I believe that on the whole, it is rarely received as a positive word when you are talking about people. You tolerate the copier at your work when it refuses to print from the drawer you swear you commanded it to. You tolerate the spider on your bathroom wall (as long as he minds his own business). You don’t tolerate a group of people that are different than you, as if doing them a favor. Tolerating implies an imposition, or a feeling of, “I’ll do it because I have to.” You should never tolerate a class, or a race, or any group you don’t identify with – you should accept them. You should embrace them and recognize them as equal members of your community who are just as important and valuable as anyone else.

At KIT, we strive to teach this value of creating communities of acceptance and belonging to the child development & recreation programs that we serve. Whether it’s through our site visits to child development programs at military bases worldwide, our live trainings, our online learning, or even in our marketing, we want to give people that “Aha” moment where they truly get inclusion. We want them to understand the difference between a child attending their program and a child meaningfully participating in their program.

I recently received a call from a mom who was concerned that her daughter (who presents some developmental delays) wasn’t being given the opportunity to make real friends at school. This mom had been talking with the school psychologist hoping that they would help facilitate some positive interactions between her daughter and some of her classmates. One day she showed up at the school and found her daughter sitting at a lunch table with other girls. She quickly realized that none of the girls were talking to her daughter, and as soon as they all were finished, they got up and left her sitting by herself. To the school, they thought they were helping her make friends by simply placing her around other girls. What they didn’t understand is the significant difference between attendance and participation, and the role they should have played in helping this young girl learn how to make friends.

In this interaction, the young girls tolerated this other girl’s presence by allowing her to sit at their table. But there was no acceptance; there was no sense of belonging, no authentic friendships kindled. It is rather easy to tolerate just about anyone, but to actually show them genuine care, love, and compassion is what we really should be teaching our kids.

– Amanda Couture, Executive Coordinator

Kids Included Together

Amanda is the wife of a Navy veteran and mother of an amazing two-year-old boy. She earned her BA in Bible and Christian Ministries from Point Loma Nazarene University and plans to pursue her Masters in Counseling. Rather than being limited to very specific fields in her professional career, Amanda believes her education has prepared her for diverse opportunities to use her talents for the goal of helping others. Amanda worked in retail and served as a Resident Assistant for a private school before she started working for Kids Included Together in 2009. Taking on various roles in customer service, event planning and staff support & development, she has been proud to devote her administrative skills to such a deserving organization.

4 comments on “Why Tolerance Isn’t Tolerable

  1. Very nice article. I liked the idea of the author.

  2. Karen Palmerlee
    May 22, 2014

    Wow, well said and certainly has opened my eyes to the meaning & use of the word “tolerance!” Just one of the many reasons I support KIT is that I believe you do strive to teach this value of creating communities of acceptance & belonging… Thanks for sharing this Amanda

    • Amanda Couture
      May 22, 2014

      Thanks, Karen – I’m glad you enjoyed it and it resonated with you!

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