On Tolerance

Merriam-Webster defines tolerance as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.”

The idea of tolerance has been on my mind for some time now, with all that has transpired over the last six months or so. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, the racial and social justice revolution, and the upcoming election, it feels like there is a new level of divisiveness in our country playing out at local, state, and national levels. Sadly, for some, it is even tearing friends and family apart.

I recently participated in the virtual Global Mindfulness Summit hosted by Wisdom 2.0. One of the sessions featured Jewel, the singer/songwriter, sharing thoughts about tolerance. She spoke about how we as a society seem to have lost the meaning of the word tolerance and the ability to embody this value. She talked about making room in our lives for people who have a different viewpoint than our own. And that we need to do this for each other – that is, it needs to be a two-way street with each person being willing to hear the other out.

One of the things she said that stuck with me is that we cannot shame people into evolving – and that we have extremes on both ends that are being hypocritical and refusing to listen to the other side. She encouraged us to try to understand where the other person is coming from – to sit, listen and talk about what we don’t understand. We often believe we have to change the other person’s mind and that is more often than not a losing battle. A better idea she proposes is to find the shared values that make us the same. Look for the common ground, as more times than not, we really want the same things – we may just differ in the way we want to achieve them.

I have been chewing on these thoughts and trying to figure out how best to embrace tolerance in my own life. Right now, when I read news stories or posts on social media that I don’t agree with, I find myself getting upset and agitated and eager to debate the writer (typically a total stranger) or the person who posted (usually a friend or family member). In these moments, I take a deep breath and remind myself that meaningful discussions cannot – and should not – occur in the social media environment. It is just not the appropriate forum for an undertaking of this importance. Unfortunately, due to safety guidelines to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, many of us are limited in our ability to sit face to face and engage in open dialogue about our differences in regard to current events. I fear that this makes a challenging situation even more difficult as many people seek to engage in this discourse through less than ideal channels such as social media.

Personally, I know that I need more time to evolve when it comes to tolerance. I can honestly say right now that I am not very accepting of people who refuse to wear a mask, or who deny that systemic racism exists or express support for the current president and his administration. I know it won’t be easy, but I would like to put my own beliefs aside and just listen to better understand why those individuals believe and act like they do. If we could all commit to this one simple act, perhaps it could be the first step toward healing the wounds of our divided nation. I know I’m willing to give it a try. How about you?

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