Personalizing Tolerance

After last week’s post I realized it might be helpful to talk more about tolerance. A few definitions of tolerance:
1) The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior one does not necessarily agree with.
2) Willingness to accept feelings, habits or beliefs that are different from your own
Tolerance is not agreement. So often we get that mixed up. People will say, “You must be tolerant,” and in saying it are asking you to agree with them. When tolerance is used in this way, the word is being used incorrectly. Sometimes groups will say they are tolerant, but really, only for the people who are aligned with their way of thinking. That is not tolerance. True tolerance means accepting and allowing another’s point of view, actions or attitudes. In its purest form, the tolerant person or group hears and honors all points of view, especially those that are opposed to their own. It is rare to find the truly tolerant.
Tolerance does not mean that one, while tolerating other views and behaviors, doesn’t continue with their own agenda. It does not mean becoming diluted to the point of having no beliefs, no ground on which to stand. It is possible to be incredibly passionate about something and still be open to and accepting of another’s passion. When we open ourselves up to hearing another’s point of view, we let go of hostility. When we seek to understand why a person believes and acts as he does, we create connection.
For most of you, this concept of tolerance can best be applied in your closest relationships. Sure it’s good for the issues so prevalent in our world, but most of your life is likely affected more by the person sitting next to you than any political agenda. How often are you practicing tolerance with your mother, co-worker, friend or lover? Notice in the next few days how you respond to the differing opinions and beliefs of the people in your closest circles. Notice your reactions, especially to anything that is against or contrary to what you are thinking or believing. This is a practice in awareness. Being tuned in to what you are doing, thinking, feeling and saying.
I’m going to pick up here next week. Your homework to prepare is to be aware of the degree of tolerance you practice in your life, the one you live every day, the people, places and activities that affect you directly. Note what happened, what you thought, how you felt and what you did. Do this in some form that you can go back to like writing or recording a voice memo. Don’t just leave it in your head. We tend to change things in our head and we don’t always see them as clearly when we come back to them. Until next week…

Dreading the Holidays: Understanding and Compassion

The first of a tightly knit string of holidays is almost here…one week for those of us who are celebrating Thanksgiving! Are you ready to be around people you find challenging? You know, the ones who say things and suddenly you no longer feel very good about yourself. Perhaps drama trails around them like Pigpen’s dirt cloud or maybe you will be around an active alcoholic. For those of you who happen to posses and actively display dysfunctional characteristics, I am not slinging shame your way. Reality is reality and often our unhealthy behavior profoundly affects those around us. If you are the offender here, take a deep breath and own that your unhealthy behavior is dysfunctional and negatively affects the people around you. This may be the perfect time to get help: join a recovery group and get into therapy. As long as you are breathing you have the potential to change.
For those who are the receivers of dysfunctional behavior, remember that you are never very far from hurting others. As long as we are breathing, we are capable of hurting people around us. This awareness generally aids us with the next valuable action to help us deal with dysfunction: seeking to understand. Understanding where someone might be coming from, what he might be thinking or feeling, helps us develop compassion for him.
Understanding and its closely linked friend, compassion can dramatically change any dysfunctional system, at the very least for you. As you put on understanding and compassion, you will notice you are not so negatively affected by the dysfunction. You are more easily able to feel the effects of the dysfunctional barbs, recognize them as a product of the other person’s pain, process the feeling and realize, “This is not about me.” Once you have metabolized your own reaction, you can then shift your focus onto understanding this person. “Wow, that is really interesting Aunt Sally that you are so emphatic about me getting married. Are you afraid I’ll be depressed and alone if I’m not married?” You can actually have a dialogue with Aunt Sally rather than become withdrawn and shut down by her comment.
Engaging with another person from a place of understanding and compassion requires you to avoid being on the defensive. If this is too big of a step right now, that’s ok. If recognizing and understanding the barb coming from the other person is about his own issues is as far as you are ready to go at this point in your own healing process, that in itself is an accomplishment. Celebrate that you are not allowing another person’s dysfunction to sideline you from enjoying the holiday gathering.
Here’s the link to last week’s post: Dreading the Holidays?