The Lambert family at their biennial reunion in Indianapolis. L-R: Nicole, Avery, Bryon, Jeanna, Cheryl Ann, Martha (Mrs. Lambert)
April 25, 2023

Tolerance or inclusion?

By Bryon Lambert

About a year and a half ago, I was asked to do a 20-minute “tolerance” presentation for an organization’s annual all-staff meeting. I started thinking about why they chose “tolerance” when “inclusion” is in my title. I wondered how my work would differ if I were the equity, diversity, and tolerance director. I concluded that it was critical to clarify the difference between tolerance and inclusion whenever possible, so I wanted to share this post.  

 You likely have heard Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) conversations with words used interchangeably, despite the difference in meaning. For instance, did you know that translation means converting written text into a different language, whereas interpreting is used for verbally converting one language to another? How about the difference between a disparity and an inequity? These words have different meanings, yet they are routinely mixed up in news stories, textbooks, and equity training sessions. A disparity is a difference in health status and mortality rates across population groups which can sometimes be predicted and expected, such as how women have a higher incidence of breast cancer than men. Inequities are avoidable, unfair, and unjust, such as how black women have a higher incidence of breast cancer than white women. See the distinct differences in meaning? Some may think that using translation when they mean interpreter or describing an inequity while using the word disparity is hardly a form of injustice, and they are right. However, failing to distinguish tolerance from inclusion can lead to unintended consequences.   

I have described inclusion while showing snapshots from past family reunions. These events encapsulate the meaning and feeling of inclusion, “the act of creating an environment in which any individual or group can be and feel welcome, respected, supported, and valued.” Last summer, when I attended my family’s biennial reunion in Indianapolis, family organizers created the ultimate inclusive event for over 200 attendees. There was a wide variety of food, events for every generation, indoor and outdoor activities, and memorable bright yellow t-shirts featuring the beautiful couple that started it all, Grandpa “Daddy Harris” and Grandma Harris. There was no doubt that I was included, not simply tolerated.  

Though tolerating someone different from me may keep me from obstructing their rights, I see an image of avoidance in my mind’s eye. Tolerance is a passive state. It does not require engagement, curiosity, or connection; all are vital inclusion ingredients.  

I believe mixing up these particular words is a big deal. My gift to you includes the definition above and the promise that inclusion is at the forefront of EDI workshops in The Learning Well. We’ll meet you there no matter where you are, in your awareness, understanding, or learning. You will be welcome, respected, supported, and valued, and together we will find a way to make this a more just and equitable world. 

Leave a Reply