Respect is Better than Tolerance

By | 2009-01-07T16:03:04+00:00 January 7th, 2009|Categories: Respectful Workplace|Tags: , , |4 Comments

Too often I hear people talking about respect with tolerance as if they were the same thing. If you think about it, they are actually quite different.

As a positive way to start to the year, US News and World Report recently featured an article on 50 Ways to Improve Your Life in 2009. Coming in at #37 was Practice Spreading Tolerance. The article suggested that with the recent election of Barack Obama, a backlash may soon follow. Traditionally, when advances are made in race relations, like the recent selection of the first African-American President of the United States, there is almost always a negative reaction, however small.

“So what to do?” the article asks. Practice spreading tolerance its authors suggest.

But is this the best answer? Maybe not. Spreading tolerance misses the point. Tolerance by itself is a passive reaction to differences, whether racial, moral, intellectual or otherwise. By being tolerant of others, you are actually doing nothing but agreeing to coexist without active hostility. In the workplace that could mean, simply acknowledging other people’s differences yet doing nothing else to support them. Admittedly, this is better than being openly hostile, gossiping or sabotaging colleagues, but, it’s still far short of what we’re capable of.

A better option is respect. It’s a more active and positive response that requires dialogue between colleagues. Moving toward respect and a respectful work environment requires that you not only tolerate but learn about others who are different and honestly consider their points of view. Respect begs us to ask questions and really listen to the answers and, most of all, not judge colleagues who see things differently than we do. Yes, respect requires tolerance as a starting point. But an open mind by itself is like a blank canvas that never benefits the creativity of the artist’s brush.

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About the Author:

Melanie Sklarz
Melanie Sklarz was the the web content and social media coordinator as well as the lead blog writer for the website. She has a MA in Women’s Studies from the Ohio State University. For more information, visit


  1. Dorothy Greenberger January 8, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Melanie, I think you are correct–respect and tolerance are definately not the same thing, and you defined them well. But, I feel your application of respect in the workplace is a little too simplistic. Based on obvious differences of gender, religion, and ethnicity, all of us should listen to others and not judge them purely on these differences. But morality is a difference that shouldn’t be overlooked, and tolerance is the best we can ask for. I can’t respect someone who gossips as a means of hurting others, or a someone who abuses alcohol or drugs, or someone who cheats/lies for their own gain, etc. These individuals don’t view these moral differences, differences in basic beleifs, as being wrong. I do. True respect has to be earned, tolerance can be given freely.

  2. Melanie Sklarz January 8, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Dorothy. I do see your point regarding not being able to respect others whose moral views conflict with yours. At the same time, I disagree that they do not deserve your respect. Yes, it may be a simplistic approach, but what I am advocating is to at least acknowledge that although you may not agree with them, you can respect that they have a perspective different from yours.

  3. Paul Meshanko January 8, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Great discussion. The interesting aspect about morality is that the more conviction that a person has for their particular beliefs, the more “right” they tend to think they are…which then leads them to the conclusion that other people are “wrong”. Differences based upon religious convictions are particularly challenging because they are based on faith and ultimately neither provable nor disprovable.

    To Dorothy’s point, we can always dislike and even disapprove of the behaviors and actions that others engage in, especially those we think are hamrful to themselves (drugs) and others (gossip). And to Melanie’s point, we can still extend respect to the individual(s) involved. Based upon her thought that respect can be demonstrated through a willingness to dialogue, it may even lead to a frank discussion of the differences and possibly even changed beliefs and behaviors on the other side. But once the stark alternatives of “right” and “wrong” rear their heads, dialogue becomes infinitely more difficult.

  4. Jay February 24, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Nice summation Paul. There are a large number of people whose actions and even beliefs I disagree with strongly. However they are still human beings with the exact same construction as myself. Ultimately there is no Us and Them, we all “deserve” basic love and respect without any question of earning it at all.

    This is what goes to the essence of what, I think, Melanie is saying. Beyond “tolerance”, beyond even “respect”, there is the basic assumption that we are all a family and that we must accept each other.

Comments are closed.