Journey to Tolerance
Tolerance is a state of consciousness. We cultivate tolerance when we accept the differences between us and respect each person’s background and experience. People often have differing racial, cultural or religious backgrounds. They often have different political beliefs or personality traits. While we usually feel safer when we are around people who look and talk like us, we are all challenged to open our hearts and minds to people who don’t fit that mold.
Opposite States of Consciousness: Intolerance, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, racism/sexism/homophobia, lack of acceptance or condemnation of others who are different from us.
Most of us feel very insecure about who we are. That’s why we like to travel in a pack where everyone conforms to the same social norms. That way we don’t stand out and don’t invite inspection or criticism. Only those who do not belong to the pack are scrutinized, distrusted and often ostracized or condemned. Cults, gangs, fraternities, extremist or terrorist groups are characterized by rigid conformity to a set up beliefs and behaviors that make the group members “holy and right” and everyone else “unholy and wrong.”
Fundamentalist religious and political groups do not easily accept people who hold different ideas or beliefs. They are threatened by differences and may even attack, slander or seek to humiliate people who disagree with them.
The irony is that real love is not based on agreement. It is easy to accept and support people who agree with you. But real love means being able to accept others who don’t agree or have a different tradition or experience. Real love only happens when we accept and tolerate differences.
Real love embraces the individual as s/he is, whatever s/he believes and whatever s/he looks like. It is always challenging to love people unconditionally. We have to be very secure about who we are to love without conditions.
As soon as the individual joins a group that espouses a set of exclusive beliefs his ability to love unconditionally is significantly compromised. To meet another person face to face, he must surrender the beliefs that separate and divide him from others.
People in many fringe groups will engage in abusive words they would not speak and actions that they would not take if speaking or acting alone. The group provides cover. It gives them license to commit crimes and rationalize their offenses.
Only when the individual is separated from the group can he see what he has done and take responsibility for it. Pedophile priests are protected by the church. Klansmen hide their faces under white hoods. Until that protection is shattered and the white hoods are removed, crimes remain hidden and undetected.
Fortunately now the victims of crimes – previously isolated and bought off by their abusers – are coming forward. For them too, there is safety in numbers. Once one person has the courage to stand up for herself, the others follow. Once the serial abuser is finally exposed, even the group cannot protect him.
Each individual is responsible for his thoughts, feelings words and actions. He cannot hide behind his family, his church, his political party or his company. In order for justice to be done, all forms of cover must be removed so that each individual is held to account for his actions.
Prejudice and intolerance can be institutionalized. They can become a tool used by a country, a political party or a religious institution to keep their base happy and their opponents at bay.
However, we must remember that all of this starts in the hearts and minds of each individual. My prejudice and yours feeds the collective appetite to prop ourselves up at the expense of others.
So we must come back to our own deep insecurity that makes it so very hard for us to accept or tolerate others who are different from us. We need to see how often we are triggered each day. We need to see how we look for similarity and agreement with others and are challenged when we do not find it.
Just as love is not based on agreement, our well-being as a people is not measured by how alike we are, but on how well we accept and integrate our differences. When we make our peace with living in a pluralistic society characterized by differences in race, religion, gender and other forms of identity, all of us thrive. One person or group does not benefit at the expense of others.
Today be aware when you feel threatened by someone who looks different from you or has a different belief or experience. Remember that love is based on acceptance, not on agreement. Today, practice accepting others as they are. Understand there is room for everyone to have their own beliefs and experiences. You do not have to convert others to your point of view. By respecting others, you make acceptance possible, even when agreement is lacking.
Today practice good boundaries. Accept your experience and let others have their own experience. Know that what works for you does not necessarily work for others, and vice versa.
No matter how wise you are, you do not know what works best for others. You cannot understand where they have been or what they need. You have to trust that they know what works for them and give them the freedom and the respect they deserve.
Today focus on inclusion, not exclusion. Invite people into a shared space but allow them to have their own experience and to express their own ideas. Do not dominate the discussion, but create a safe space where all voices can be heard.
Today be mindful of your prejudices and the beliefs that separate you from others and create unnecessary conflict. See if you can put yourself in their place and walk in their shoes. See if you can view them as equals.
Make space for acceptance and understanding within your own consciousness. Be willing to surrender old biases and judgments that you blindly accepted because they were drilled into you by parents, teachers or religious leaders. You don’t have to hold onto beliefs that have become destructive or dysfunctional.
Today let go of narrow mindedness and divisive beliefs. Create a larger, more inclusive and convivial space that is respectful to everyone. Today, find common ground and let the differences be what they are. Today be an equal. Don’t see yourself as “better than” or “less than” others.
When you tolerate others who are different from you and respect their freedom of speech and other constitutional rights, you establish equality and insure that justice is done impartially. You help to create a safer world.
What differences between you and others trigger you? How can you accept and respect others when you do not agree with them?
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