The Difference Between Acceptance and Approval

The Difference Between Acceptance and Approval August 23, 2019

We live in a world of extremes. The middle ground is losing ground. Whether it be politics or sports fandom, we have turned affection into a binary endeavor: love or hate.

One of the side-effects to this is we are losing a perspective about the difference between acceptance and approval. In modern society, they are one and the same. Withholding approval is tantamount to full out rejection of one’s identity.

But there are differences and they are not that hard to see. Think about a parent. A good parent. They will love their kid no matter what. That is what acceptance looks like. Unconditional affection. Accepting who a person is, faults and all. Perceiving others as a part of US, a piece of the WE.

On the other hand, if that good parent has a teenager crash a car into the neighbor’s fence or get drunk at a party, they will be disappointed. They will not approve. This doesn’t affect their acceptance of their child; their family, flesh and blood (and spirit). It means they don’t approve. Even if a parent withholds approval for the child playing one sport over another or picking one college over another, a healthy perspective of the difference between approval and acceptance will help the family unit navigate that with honesty and joy.

Assuming acceptance (which is far from an assumption in this world), there are two possible combinations of acceptance and approval. Here is some perspective about each and how to navigate them in a way that does not negate the bigger picture.


Acceptance and Approval

This is easy. Everyone is on the same page here. The important thing to note is that acceptance trumps approval. They are not dependent on each other and they are not equals. They are also not mutually exclusive.

Acceptance is about identity. It is the stronger of the two. The more significant. The most real. Why? Because it is easier and clearer.

None of us has the market cornered on approval. We approve things we shouldn’t and vice versa. We are as imperfect as the thing we judge to be imperfect. We can’t trust our appraisal system.

Acceptance is easy because it is all-encompassing. There is no discernment when it comes to acceptance, just obedience. The laws of God and man, morality and common sense say that we ought to accept each other without bias.


Acceptance and Disapproval

When I was born, my dad dreamed of me playing in the NBA. It was his favorite sport. But I ended up being pretty good at soccer, a sport he knew little about. He accepted it with no real obstacle. But it was hard to let go of his dream for me.

These kinds of things happen all the time. Good parents who love their children don’t approve of a choice in spouse or a major in college or an overseas move. The mistake that both parent and child make in these scenarios is demanding it has to be all or nothing.

The key to healthy disapproval is twofold: humility and unwavering acceptance. We are allowed to express our disapproval, but when it negates our ability to accept, we have a big problem. And the same works in the other direction. Victim mentality stems largely from the idea everyone needs to approve everything I do and, if they don’t, it is a bigoted lack of acceptance. We have to be able to separate the two to have either of them mean anything.

In a strange way, room for healthy disapproval makes acceptance more possible. It follows the agree-to-disagree posture. The love-one-another-even-if-we-don’t-see-eye-to-eye perspective.

Our world needs more of this. We need to separate our need for approval from our need for acceptance. Because they are two distinct things. And understanding each in its own right will help us to both accept and approve according to the truth rather than our defensive predispositions.

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