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?

The Truth About the World

This isn’t a post about how I’ve figured out the meaning of life or why any of us were put on this earth. Rather, it is about a song, and more specifically, about the power of music – to lift us up, to carry us through, to help us heal in times of need.

I was recently introduced to the song “The Truth About the World” by Andrea Marie during a Saturday morning Zoom session with some local Nia sisters. To be honest, I couldn’t hear the song that well through Zoom but fortunately, I tagged it through the Shazam app. Later, I found the song through Apple Music and had a chance to listen more closely. And I was blown away.

The song starts with a simple blend of acoustic guitar and keyboard, with some soft, non-lyric vocals. Then comes the first verse:

Have you grown tired
of feeling alone
Numb to the earth
and numb to the soul

Whoa. My first thought was how these words struck a chord given that so many of us have been staying at home, social distancing since the pandemic started, leading to a sense of isolation – and a need for connection with loved ones, near and far. Then I learned that the song is from an album she released in 2016…and it made me think about how many people may have been feeling this way before the words “corona virus” became a part of the lexicon.

Over the next two verses, a variety of percussion instruments join in as well as some strings. A simple drum beat, echoing a heartbeat, growing louder as the song continues…and then we reach the repeating chorus:

Everyone is hurting
Everyone is searching
Everyone is looking
for the truth about love
For the truth about a god
For the truth about the world

On the fourth and final chorus, the instruments begin to drop out until it is just vocals and the drum beat. A simple end, mirroring the simple beginning to a song that is anything but simple in meaning. And so, so powerful. I have had this song on daily rotation for the last week – sometimes it makes me cry, other times it brings a sense of hope and healing. I was not surprised to learn that the artist is also a member of a contemporary worship band called United Pursuit. I don’t typically listen to “religious” music but there are times when music transcends faith.

Click here to listen to a live performance or search for the song on your favorite music streaming app.

Breathe in, breathe out

One of the self-care strategies that has helped me manage much of the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is a daily meditation practice. For almost four years now, I have started my day with Insight Timer, listening to either a guided meditation or meditative music. As anyone who practices mindfulness meditation knows, a mainstay of the practice is focusing on your breath as a way to stay anchored in the present moment. Perhaps now more than ever, I have come to appreciate the calming power of deep breathing.

In thinking about the breath, I had the idea about a month ago to create a playlist of songs that have to do with the breath or breathing. A few favorite songs came to mind and I also did a quick search in my music library. I started with the following songs, but plan to add to the list as I come across others that fit the theme – and contribute to my peace of mind, particularly on those days when I am feeling rattled by the state of the world. Lately, I have been listening to this playlist on Monday mornings, as a way to start off the week on a positive note.

“Breathe” playlist
I’m Alive (with Dave Matthews) – Kenny Chesney
Breathe (feat. Colbie Caillat) – Taylor Swift
breathin – Ariana Grande
Breathe – Michelle Branch
Catch My Breath – Kelly Clarkson

If you have not already done so, I encourage you to use music as a way to manage the roller coaster of emotions you may experience as this pandemic continues to unfold and evolve, with no clear end in sight. Find songs that will make you smile when you are feeling down, as well as those that will help you relax when you’re wound a little too tight. You can even throw in the ones that make you want to get up and move. Create your #pandemicplaylists and tap into the healing power of music.

ACEs and Resilience

This spring, I had the opportunity to attend a screening of the documentary “Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope” at my daughter’s high school. It was co-sponsored by Public Schools First NC, a statewide nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused solely on pre-K – 12 public education issues. The documentary addresses the link between toxic stress caused by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the increased risk it puts children at for chronic disease, homelessness, prison time, and even early death.

I was somewhat familiar with the topic of ACEs before I watched the film, but I have to admit the data and information shared was eye-opening and thought-provoking. For those not familiar, Adverse Childhood Experiences can include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance abuse
  • Mental illness
  • Parental separation/divorce
  • Incarcerated relative

The more ACEs a child experiences, the more likely he or she is to suffer from things like heart disease, diabetes, poor academic achievement and substance abuse later in life. Children who experience four or more ACEs are at greatest risk for these negative health outcomes. Experiencing multiple ACEs can cause what is known as toxic stress, or excessive activation of the body’s stress-response system. This can lead to long-term wear and tear on the body and brain. One way to think about it is as if you were to rev a car engine for days or weeks at a time. Imagine what that would do to your engine.

When children experience this toxic stress, they are essentially in survival mode. Self-protection becomes the priority, thereby affecting their social skills and their ability to learn. This can lead to difficulties in school. In addition, the increase in stress hormones can suppress the immune system, leaving children susceptible to illness and poor health in general.

Although exposure to ACEs is harmful, the good news is that the damage is not irreparable – and there are ways to reduce the effects of ACEs and toxic stress. Obviously, the primary approach should be to reduce the sources of stress in children’s lives, by meeting their basic needs or providing services in the community to help avoid exposure to these adverse experiences. However, for children who have already been exposed, strategies such as professional counseling, meditation, physical exercise, and spending time in nature have been shown to counteract the effects of ACEs. In addition, studies have shown that building resilience helps reduce the effects as well. Resilience is the ability to adjust or bounce back when bad things happen, and it is a skill that can be learned – by children and adults.

I have to admit that my interest in this topic and the documentary is really two-fold: understanding how ACEs can affect youth in my community but also how they may play a role in the lives of the adult clients whom I coach. Many of the clients I work with are often overweight or obese and may also have chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes. Oftentimes, these adults are struggling with anxiety and/or depression as well. It is highly possible that these physical and mental health conditions are a result of ACEs that these individuals endured in their youth.

My experience watching this documentary and learning more about ACEs has prompted me to think about how I can possibly address this topic in my work as a coach. To be honest, helping individuals heal from the trauma of ACEs and toxic stress is really more appropriate for therapy or counseling, which is outside my scope of practice. In addition, coaching differs from counseling in that it is more focused on exploring the present and the future (e.g., through goals and action steps) rather than investigating and healing the past. However, as a coach, I think it would be helpful to know if a client did experience one or more ACEs in the past. It could open the door to introducing evidence-based practices such as mindfulness and meditation, which are helpful tools for behavior change as well as building resilience. It could be a win-win for the client – helping them heal from trauma in their past while also moving them forward in the direction of their vision and goals for optimal health and wellbeing.

I plan to explore ways that I can broach this topic if a client shares information that leads me to believe they may have experienced toxic stress due to ACEs. Sometimes clients offer this information outright. Others may drop more subtle hints about their past, allowing me to test the waters for further exploration with a gentle inquiry to share more if they are willing and able. Clients may or may not wish to elaborate, but if they do, I now feel more prepared to explore the connection between ACES and current health concerns – as well as strategies to counteract the damage that may have already been done.

If you are interested in learning more about ACEs, below are some resources that may be helpful:

CDC website about ACEs

Infographic: The Truth about ACEs

Finding Your ACE Score