What if we could all learn to be more tolerant?
In these challenging times, it can be difficult to respect and accept others when they hold views that are different from your own.
- Learn why tolerance is essential in today’s stressful world, why it's difficult to achieve and how we can all promote a more tolerant world, starting with ourselves.
- Emotions are running high at home and at work, which makes it more challenging to deal with people who don’t share your beliefs.
- Being tolerant and accepting is difficult, but so is the alternative. Intolerance can lead to mental and physical health problems, not to mention broken relationships.
- In honor of International Day for Tolerance (Nov. 16) we asked four experts with ties to Providence to share their insights about tolerance and how each of us can develop this ability.
[5 MIN READ]
What if we could all learn to be more tolerant?
Even with the presidential election behind us, tensions are high in our country. Together we're coping with a pandemic, natural disasters, a national conversation about systemic racism, political transition and economic uncertainty. Emotions are running hot at home, at work and, yes, on social media. But at a time when it might seem easier to build walls, we must band together and collectively rise above.
Accepting and respecting other people, even when they hold views that are vastly different from ours, can go a long way toward bringing us together.
Accepting and respecting other people, even when they hold views that are vastly different from ours, can go a long way toward bringing us together. Here at Providence, we communicate acceptance and respect for others in our core value of justice, which calls us to:
- Foster a culture that promotes unity and reconciliation
- Strive to care wisely for our people, our resources and our earth
- Stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable, working to remove the causes of oppression and promoting justice for all
These noble goals are difficult to achieve in daily life. Each of us wants to be right, and we want other people to agree with us—especially about topics that are near and dear to our hearts. Can we accept (which doesn’t mean agree with) other people and resist the urge to judge them? Or do we simply need to be right, even if it tears someone else down or damages a friendship?
Each of us wants to be right, and we want other people to agree with us—especially about topics that are near and dear to our hearts. Can we accept other people and resist the urge to judge them?
November 16 is International Day for Tolerance, which was established by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1996. In honor of this event, we sat down with four mental health experts with ties to Providence and asked them to share their insights about why tolerance is essential and how we can grow in this area of our lives. Many thanks to our four panelists for joining the conversation. They include:
- Josh Cutler, LICSW, a Seattle-based clinical social worker at Providence Telehealth
- Cathlyn Fraguela Rios, LICSW, a Seattle-based clinical social worker at Providence Telehealth
- Robin Henderson, PsyD, a psychologist at Providence Health and Services in Oregon
- Tyler Norris, MDiv, chief executive of Well Being Trust, a national foundation established by Providence St. Joseph Health in 2016
The importance of tolerance
Question: When you look at society today, it’s obvious that so many issues divide us, from politics and religious beliefs to attitudes toward social distancing and mask-wearing. How could developing more tolerance and acceptance toward one another help?
Cathlyn: We are all going through a lot. Everyone is having difficulties with everything that is happening in the world and our lives. We are at a pivotal moment where things can change for the better. This begins with being able to understand one another. Having empathy and compassion toward one another is what can build the connections.
Robin: In a politically charged environment like we're in today, "social tolerance" becomes a necessity. It asks each member of society to act with civility toward others. We all have differences related to race, religion, sexuality, gender and status—the list goes on and on. Social tolerance is an important part of an advanced society and it supports economic development, diversity, humanity, and mental and emotional well-being.
What intolerance costs us
Question: Anyone who has disagreed with a loved one at a holiday dinner knows that conflict in our personal relationships can cause anxiety and stress. What role does tolerance play in that dynamic?
Robin: Feeling that we have to "endure" someone because their views differ from our own takes a toll on our mental and emotional well-being. I would posit that a healthier position is one of acceptance. Accepting and even celebrating the differences we all have is energizing and promotes positive mental and emotional well-being for everyone.
Feeling that we have to "endure" someone because their views differ from our own takes a toll on our mental and emotional well-being.
Josh: Hate, which can stem from unhealed trauma and lead to extreme intolerance, has a profound effect on the person carrying this heavy burden in their heart. This stress can have significant impacts on physical and mental health.
Tyler: When I notice myself feeling, speaking or acting from intolerance, I recognize that I am not doing what the teachings of my faith tradition ask me—which is to love my neighbor as myself. Intolerance depletes me and all of us. In an era of toxic partisanship and other expressions of polarity amidst the multi-layered crises before us, I've been challenged to recognize my places of intolerance.
When I notice myself feeling, speaking or acting from intolerance, I recognize that I am not doing what the teachings of my faith tradition ask me—which is to love my neighbor as myself.
Change starts with you
Question: At Providence, we emphasize values that call us to be civil and treat each other with respect, which is especially important in tense situations and turbulent times. These values are built on our faith tradition and the words of Jesus, who in speaking with his disciples declared: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” (John 13:34). How can we treat others with love and respect, even when we disagree with them?
Josh: We all have biases, conscious and unconscious, that come from many influences as we mature. The first step in changing thoughts or behaviors that make you unhappy is to observe them and accept yourself as a person who isn't perfect but is striving to be better. Aligning with your values is a very effective way to shift your approach to the world. As you consider certain thoughts and behaviors, you may see that they are out of line with how you want to show up and the world you want to live in.
We can only truly learn tolerance from someone we are struggling with. In that respect, “the other” can teach us something of great importance to our own well-being, and that of the world around us.
Tyler: We can only truly learn tolerance from someone we are struggling with. In that respect, “the other” can teach us something of great importance to our own well-being, and that of the world around us. I can't say that I have ever liked the word “tolerance,” as to tolerate someone has felt like a low bar in terms of honoring the dignity of every human being. That said, tolerance provides for basic respect in the face of disagreement.
Cathlyn: In my own life, I am learning to exercise empathy and compassion when I’m having conversations with friends and family who hold other viewpoints. I try to listen rather than try to convince others to see things from my view. It’s so important to respect where people might be coming from rather than “write them off” for what they do or think.
What’s the payoff?
Question: Becoming more tolerant sounds like a lot of work. Is it worth it?
Robin: Any way you define it, tolerance takes effort. It takes effort to endure pain and hardship. It takes effort to have sympathy for beliefs or practices that don't align with our own. It takes effort to allow something to happen that you don't agree with.
Imagine a world where psychological acceptance of ourselves and others becomes what we teach our children and what our leaders, influencers and community members emulate.
But is it worthwhile? Yes. Imagine a world where psychological acceptance of ourselves and others becomes what we teach our children and what our leaders, influencers and community members emulate. What an emotionally healthy place this world would be if all of us were more tolerant of one another!
Change starts with each one of us
The next time you interact with someone whose opinions and beliefs clash with yours, take a deep breath (or several). Before responding, ask yourself:
- What do I have in common with this person? How can I focus our conversation on that?
- Do I have to prove that I am right, and this person is wrong?
- Can I respond with kindness, even though I don’t agree with their opinion?
- What is an alternative to arguing with this person? Can I listen to what they are saying without responding in anger? Can I simply change the subject? Can I walk away?
- How can I detach from the emotion of this conversation? How can I see the person I’m talking to as separate from the topic we are discussing?
It is easy to mistake tolerance for agreement. However, it’s the direct opposite. If we all agreed on everything, there would be no need for tolerance or an understanding of differing opinions. Every step we take toward tolerance and acceptance of beliefs that others hold is one step closer to connecting with people authentically and healing the rifts in our society. Together, we can do it!
If you're feeling anxious or stressed about engaging with people in your life that hold different viewpoints from your own, we encourage you to check out some of these wellness resources or find community resources to help you cope during these difficult times.
Safety and Care
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.