The Real Meaning Of Tolerance

July 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Blog

Tolerance is a word that gets tossed around by religious leaders, politicians and regular folks as if it was a Frisbee on amphetamines.  But what about the real meaning behind the word and not just that which gets people elected and praised?

It is easy to be tolerant when our immediate social environment is made out of like minded individuals.  It is the old preaching to the choir syndrome.  But what happens when we are confronted by ideas and people that are not only foreign to us but completely opposite?  How do stout Democrats converse with Republicans?  How atheists converse with committed religious individuals?

I think of two recent examples I’ve had in my own life.  A few months ago I befriended a fellow producer of about the same age and career success.  We went out a couple of times to eat and hiking and quickly started sharing our personal lives.  At one of our lunches, she started to tell me how she felt about Jewish people.  All the stereotypes came rolling out of her mouth without hesitation.  As I sat there listening to her I was 1 – surprised that she had never considered that I could be Jewish and therefore be offended by her rampage and 2 – had to decide how to respond.  I could listen and say nothing, or I could get on a soap box and chastise her, or I could try to find a calm and compassionate way to dialogue with her.  As I’m old enough to know that screaming at someone or not taking a position are two alternatives that don’t produce positive results, I decided to dialogue.  I started by telling her that I her new friend was born and raised Jewish and then I followed by asking her what made her say the things that she was saying.  I actually was trying to understand and hopefully get her past her anger.  At the end of the conversation I realized that some of her attitude was based on needing to direct her frustrations towards something or someone and Jewish people fit the bill for her at that moment.  We talked and continue to talk.  Most importantly I am still her friend and don’t hold any resentments.

The next person I came across in my recent history is a believer.   I’m still not fully sure what that means but I know his belief involves a certainty that humans came from Adam and Eve and that everything we need to know is in the bible.  That idea to me is as foreign and contrary as anything I have ever experienced.  It would be easy for me not to engage and move along but what would that say about communication, tolerance and relationships?  So I have decided to reach out to what we share in common; our humanity.  I am suspending my judging and am being tolerant of him as I’m sure he is of me and my ideas.

We are all interconnected in this world so learning to listen without judgment is the only way we can be tolerant of each other and continue to exist as a people.

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