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Accepting vs. Respecting: Navigating Differences in Belief Systems

Respecting someone's beliefs and accepting someone's beliefs represent two distinct notions. If a person does not accept another individual's beliefs, they are often branded as dogmatist or intolerant, irrespective of whether they respect the individual. In current times, it seems that peaceful coexistence, open-mindedness, and constructive debate have lost their vigor and have given way to a culture of hostility, conformity, defamation, and disregard for dissenting views. In this article, I'll examine the differences between respect and acceptance and how college athletics can bridge the gap between those two distinct ideas.

Accepting someone's beliefs is acknowledging that those beliefs exist and accepting them as truth. However, respecting someone's beliefs shows acknowledgment and involves treating those beliefs with consideration and regard, even if one does not necessarily agree. Respecting someone's beliefs also entails refraining from mocking or belittling them and instead being open to learning about and understanding why they hold those beliefs. It can involve finding common ground or focusing on mutual respect, regardless of differences in beliefs.

I spent several years writing interpersonal and sexual violence prevention curricula for schools, non-profits, and businesses. I'd regularly discuss the prevalence of the red flags of emotional and mental abuse within interpersonal relationships. Over the past 15 years, I've seen a rise in the demand for social conformity, often executed by those claiming to be social justice warriors. Facets of society have adopted the idea that "you are either with us or against us."

Tactics of "ideological social force" against individuals include:

  1. Using physical force or coercion to make them adopt a particular belief

  2. Threatening them with negative consequences such as punishment or ostracism if they do not conform to a particular belief

  3. Using emotional manipulation such as guilt-tripping or shaming to make them feel like they must believe a certain thing

  4. Insisting that one's own beliefs are the only valid ones and refusing to consider or respect other viewpoints

  5. Using deceptive tactics such as spreading lies or misinformation to influence someone's beliefs

Forcing beliefs on another person is unethical and can lead to adverse outcomes such as damaged relationships, resentment, and a lack of critical thinking skills (that last one hits). These tactics aren't much different than what you'd expect from the abuser in an emotionally damaging personal relationship.

The Bible presents several teachings affirming people's freedom to hold different religious beliefs, such as the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself and the example of Paul engaging with people of other religions (see Romans 14 and Titus 3). However, it also presents exclusive claims about the nature of God and the way of salvation. The Bible repeatedly teaches us to love and respect others, but nowhere tells us to accept the beliefs of others. In fact, the Bible tells us we must stand apart and not conform to this world.

While I’m not familiar with specific texts, I can confidently say Buddhism and Hinduism also share the principle of respecting others and their beliefs. Buddhism emphasizes reverence towards all living beings and their beliefs, as the Buddha himself espoused compassion and kindness toward all. Hinduism is a broad-minded religion that recognizes diverse paths towards enlightenment, promoting tolerance and respect towards other beliefs. It recognizes that individuals may choose different religious ways.

College athletics can bridge cultural and religious gaps by providing a platform for people from different backgrounds to come together and engage in a shared purpose. By participating in athletics, individuals can learn about and appreciate each other's cultures and beliefs, work towards a common goal, and develop healthy relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. Additionally, college athletics can serve as a way to promote inclusivity and diversity on campus, creating a more welcoming environment for all students.

"Ok, Coach Ashley—So how can student-athletes and coaches model respect for the beliefs of others while maintaining their own beliefs and identity?"

I'm so glad you asked. Here are seven tasty nuggets for your brain to chew on:

  1. Listening actively to others' beliefs and perspectives without judging or dismissing them

  2. Acknowledging and validating the diversity of beliefs and backgrounds on their team or community

  3. Treating all individuals with kindness, fairness, and equality, regardless of their beliefs

  4. Avoiding discriminatory or derogatory language or actions that may offend or marginalize others

  5. Focusing on shared values and goals, such as teamwork, sportsmanship, and personal growth

  6. Encourage open communication and dialogue among team members or the community to promote understanding and empathy

  7. Respect others' privacy and personal boundaries, including their religious or cultural practices

In closing, it is essential to distinguish between respecting and accepting someone's beliefs. College athletics can serve as a means to bridge cultural and religious gaps by promoting inclusivity and diversity, providing a platform for individuals from different backgrounds to come together and engage in a shared activity. Through participation in athletics, individuals can learn about and appreciate one another's cultures, work towards shared goals, and develop personal relationships based on mutual respect and understanding. Ultimately, embracing these values can help create a more welcoming and respectful social environment for everyone.

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