In the ongoing discussion of what it is to be mindful, the terms acceptance and non-judgment are sometimes used interchangeably; but should they?
Most often, acceptance is defined as acknowledgment of something in a favorable way. You accept a gift, an apology, a promotion or a marriage proposal in a favorable manner, with positive feelings toward the offering. In this sense of the word, acceptance is different than non-judgment, which would be acknowledgement of something in a neutral or unbiased fashion. You certainly cannot accept a marriage proposal in a neutral way. If you did, the proposer might not feel appreciated; so in this case, the terms have different applications.
Acceptance, however, can have an alternate meaning. Consider finding out that a loved one has passed away unexpectedly. Unexpectedly, because a passing that is foreseen from a long way off can be prepared for and can even be accepted in a positive way if it is merciful and for the best; but an unexpected death must be acknowledged with a degree of neutrality. There will be inevitable sorrow, but the acceptance must be made in order to honestly confront the situation and begin the healing process in a healthy way; and this type of acceptance comes without much positive emotion.
This form of acknowledgement is much more akin to non-judgement. It is a less adulterated awareness, achieved for the sake of understanding oneself and growing.
Understanding and growth are essentially the benefits of acceptance and non-judgmental consciousness. You must use these tools to realize entirely who you are and have the consideration to allow others to do the same. Note that acceptance does not equate to tolerance. Being aware of the constitution of an individual who causes you suffering does not mean you have to expose yourself to that pain. It means only that you should strive to honor and respect them even if you have different sets of values.
Recognition of pathways that lead toward judgment is key to navigating away from them and finding avenues where you can acknowledge your individuality and that of others. Only when you do this will you be able to honor yourself and the people who you love in an environment where everyone can evolve and be more conscious.
Joanne M. Deck defines acceptance and non-judgment in more detail here.[image: via ashley rose, on Flickr]