The increasing availability of Covid Vaccines, and the advent of Spring, have brought me new hope for the coming months, and our ability to reengage in a more significant way with our community of family and friends. In addition, I celebrated another birthday – this one crossed into a new decade. While the number gives me pause, I celebrate the opportunity to begin this decade with a ‘blank slate’ and determine what is important for the me I want to be.
Part of that exploration extends to the hope and aspirations I have for our communities, our nation, and our world. The word that keeps coming to mind is ‘tolerance.’ Six years ago, my partner at the time, Dan Fairly, shared a short and powerful piece on tolerance. I want to revisit Dan’s words and add my own thoughts as we move through a significant year of ‘recovery’- physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
A continued “thanks” to those of you that send me words of encouragement and helpful comments. While I write for me, I am grateful that several of you have expressed that some of those words have meaning for you. Let’s have a great Spring.
Do your best work and be well.
Six years ago, Dan shared this.
“In the last few months, I’ve experienced both ‘benign’ and ‘real’ tolerance. Tolerance is the act or state of allowing or indulging beliefs and practices that might not be preferred or even approved by oneself or the group to which one belongs. We tend to pride ourselves on being tolerant, but this is usually when we do not care (benign) one way or the other about what others are doing. When we mind, and object, and dislike, but recognize the other’s right to do what he does or think what he thinks anyway, then the hard work of (real) tolerance begins.
Effective leaders know the importance of real tolerance to everyone in their organization. Real tolerance is a fundamental key to effective leadership and high performing teams. It is hard to have real tolerance, and effective leaders know that real tolerance is hard work. Embracing diversity in our styles and our values brings a world of benefit to us individually and to our organizations as we work to do our best work.
Recognize the difference between ‘benign’ tolerance and ‘real’ tolerance. Show your ‘real’ tolerance for those you likely object to. ‘Benign’ tolerance really doesn’t count!”
As I re-read Dan’s words, I am struck by what we have been through since he wrote them, and how challenged we are around the notion of tolerance. Our nation, and our world, have struggled with our differences. Whether it has been with race, gender, or sexual orientation, our beliefs around politics, religion and those who ‘believe differently,’ we are witness to increased hostility. We are witness to increased in – tolerance.
As a coach, I am less interested in a person/group’s past as I am interested in what they would like to do going forward. Sometimes, they are not sure of what they want to do, but they are sure of what they don’t want to do, or don’t want to feel.
The past couple of months have had me examining my ‘white privilege’ and how it has shaped my attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Am I, as Dan puts it, ‘benign’ tolerant because I don’t care or have ‘skin in the game’ regarding what some others are doing? If I am truthful the answer is yes, I have/do exhibit some ‘benign’ tolerance.
What I have come to understand for myself is ‘that is not enough.’ I have come to understand that what happened to George Floyd, or countless other African Americans, Asians, LGBTQ, or marginalized persons has an affect on me because it reflects the attitudes of the society in which I live. If I believe that “All persons are created equal” then that means All Persons. I don’t have to believe all that you believe, or represent, but somewhere, if I want where I live to reflect a belief that “We the People,” then I must behave in a way that is willing to include All People.
Being a leader has often called forth within me a challenge to be the best version of me. That required, among other things, that I demonstrate ‘tolerance.’ One of the first steps that tolerance required was for me to seek ‘first to understand.’ I am still seeking to understand, sometimes with more ability than others.
My wife and I were on a recent trip that included a stay with our good friends. They have been friends for over 20 years. When we started talking about ‘masks’ and ‘vaccines’ I was shocked by their point of view. I must admit, my initial response did not come from a position of ‘seeking first to understand.’ I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to demonstrate ‘tolerance’ for a different viewpoint in the moment. It did help me to understand what happens when I feel strongly about something and how ‘intolerant’ I can be.
My sense is that I/we have a long way to go. I do believe that my ‘seeking first to understand’ is helping me to understand more of where I came from, and the things about being white that are not helpful in my desire to reflect more tolerance and willingness to participate more in working toward a household, a community, a nation that is living out its stated belief of ‘all persons are created equal,’ and not the inconvenient truth that we have seldom lived out a belief that included ‘All People.’
I am convinced, from my own experience, that I must first exhibit the ‘me I want to be’ to facilitate a household, a community, and a nation that exhibits more hope and more equality. Will I see that in my lifetime? I don’t know. In fact, there is a lot I don’t know about ‘diversity’ and ‘equality.’ What I do know is that if I/you/we take an individual journey that opens us to ‘understanding first’ then we improve our ability to be more inclusive. I believe that developing ‘real’ tolerance is a good thing.
To a better you…
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