Dear Mr Sponsor Pants:
I am writing you to ask for help in clearing up the difference between Accept and Tolerate. There are so many "extensions" of each, plus they seem so similar yet very different, I am not sure where to start.
Accept vs Tolerate
Acceptance vs Tolerance
Acceptable vs Tolerable
Unacceptable vs Intolerable
Then I start to get into:
Accepting Intolerable Behavior
Tolerating Unacceptable Behavior
Beyond this I am kind of stuck. It feels something like one is much healthier then the other. But I am not sure why or which is cleaner, or if both can be equally clean depending on how they are used.
You wrote, "Beyond this I am kind of stuck" -- beyond this?!? If that's the case, it puts you much farther along than I am -- I'm still reeling from all your "this versus that" -- it's like some kind of World Wrestling Federation Philosophical Smackdown!
First, for the new kids, lets give some context as to where in the 12 Step world these ideas come into play. Briefly speaking (and roughly speaking too, so please, those of you who are great Recovery Literature Scholars forgive my shortcuts -- no directly quoted passages or page numbers today I'm afraid) the idea of tolerance is of course very much in line with the larger "design for living" which AA suggests. Specifically, AA states, "love and tolerance is our code." Elsewhere the AA literature talks about "... a real tolerance of others..." is how we may be of maximum usefulness when trying to carry AA's message.
Acceptance is an ideal espoused in the Serenity Prayer (The first line of which states "... grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change..."). There is also a very popular story in the back of the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book) entitled "Acceptance is the Answer" (and in the 3rd Edition it was called "Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict" but someone decided to change the name in the 4th Edition, and I'm enough of a curmudgeon to be grumbling about it still). This story details, as all of the stories do, what it was like when the author drank and used, what happened to bring him to AA and sobriety, and what his life is like now that he's sober. In his narrative he emphasizes strongly that when he is not "in acceptance" he is a much unhappier man.
I think that, if I can just roll up my sleeves and step into the ring with this tag-team of philosophical and spiritual combatants you've conjured up, it might be easier to say what I have come to believe they're not before I get into trying to pin a few of them to the mat regarding what they are.
I used to believe that if I accepted or tolerated something I agreed with it -- or that I had to come to like it. I am a word nerd, and I was shocked (Shocked I tell you! Shocked!) at how many terms I thought I was clear on but actually wasn't when I came to AA. Sure, I could use them correctly in a sentence, but I did not have real comprehension of the term until I looked the ideas up in a dictionary and then discussed them with other sober folks-- so I applaud your email query, M! (And these are some thoughts I've had on that whole dictionary thing.)
Here's a specific example to answer your question(s): I enter the bank lobby, and there is a long line. I can tolerate waiting in it, but that doesn't mean I like waiting in it. I can accept the fact that this is how things are in the bank right now, but that doesn't mean I agree with how the bank is running their business.
Your mad suffix action, as exciting as it is, (sort of like being a syntax ninja. Hai!) on "accept" and "tolerate" does not really change their meaning very much, for me. All things are in some way influenced by context, so I would caution you not to hypothetical yourself into loopy circular thinking about how the meanings may vary a bit with different useages. That way lies madness. (Madness I tell you. Madness!)
As for the "un" and "in" of unacceptable and intolerable ... well, those are loaded guns, for me. Indulging myself by throwing those ideas around is like playing with matches at the gasoline pump. All I'm doing is revving up for a good rant. And for this alcoholic -- who always secretly longs for the Julia Sugarbaker moment in which you can give someone a spitfire, super-literate dressing down, and they just stand there and take it while the studio audience "ooohs" and then we cut to commercial -- revving up for a good rant is equal parts ego-fantasy and resentment-machine.
Finally, your pair of little triplets there, about "accepting intolerable behavior" and "tolerating unacceptable behavior" -- for me, that's just a word trick -- logically the phrases are fine, but the larger meaning is moving away from the spiritual principle behind the ideas of acceptance and tolerance. I'm not supposed to accept or tolerate abuse -- and doing so, using the language of the Program to rationalize it, is about fear of confrontation, and has nothing to do with actual acceptance or tolerance in the spirit AA intends me to practice them (in my humble opinion).
Clearly you have an agile mind, and I salute your interest in learning more about how to better apply these ideas in your recovery.
But M, I think you think too much. For me, when I've been able to practice sitting quietly and listening, I can hear the "still small voice" inside which is the best authority on what and when to accept and tolerate -- or when not to.
Hope some of that was helpful, and thanks for writing.