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An Interview with Tolerance

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

I have always been curious about concepts we accept as wholly good or wholly bad without question, the binary of light and shade in our notions. As a practicing coach I very often come across the socially constructed use of language that has worked to confine individuals and groups, making them smaller and somehow worth less than others and in contrast worked with individuals and groups who use the very same concepts to inflate and feed their egos and organisations. Working with this light and shade has been challenging and intriguing. Self-reflection and supervision have enabled me to ask myself questions about previously unexplored territories of my own beliefs, values, and actions. I can say at this point, I am not without reproach! Even as I write this, I am wrestling with the tension between my intensions and a battling ego. Please do not misunderstand this piece, I am not against tolerance; I am just wondering whether we should plug tolerance as the panacea for peace or inclusion, without questioning its intentions and motivations.

Who are we asking to be tolerant and about what?

For example, what would you say if I stated that tolerance may be viewed as a form of social control, forcing us to be obedient and conform to desirable norms in society?

What are you noticing?

Tolerance is taught as a wholly good thing to be, we are taught tolerance as a way of forming and maintaining peace, how can this possibly be anything but good? BUT… what about the times when we need to use intolerance for the greater good? When professionals violate positions of power and influence; when extremist views are both psychologically and physically damaging to marginalised sections of our society.

My invitation is this, while teaching tolerance might we also teach intolerance and when it is appropriate and inappropriate to use either? In this way, could we nourish all and specifically marginalised sectors of our society, to enable them to stand tall, ‘speak truth to power’ and not be asked to become smaller to make it easier on the rest? Might we encourage healthy debate and ask about the confinement and liberation of beliefs and the importance of taking ownership and accountability for our words and actions? For example, how might we work with an extreme view? How could we bringing any damage into sharp focus, for this damage to learn and grow rather than being pushed further into anger through shame, doubt, guilt, and ignorance. Then maybe this damage might find a way to express itself in a healthy form, embracing views different from its own in a way that creates understanding and mutual respect of our stories and histories.

How might it feel to be tolerated?

What does this evoke for you?

In my view tolerance and intolerance, have the potential to be a formidable duo. Together with curiosity and creativity they could have superpowers for children and society to be able to feel accepted and worthy, to accept and understand when their beliefs and actions may be damaging to others. It is my belief it is from this space that we can propel humanity forward.

For me schools and organisations have the power to encourage our children and their people to ask questions and become curious and creative rather than tolerant in its simplest form. To be willing to be questioned, become confident and comfortable with conflict, rather than small and smaller until we stand for nothing and go along to get along or become angered by the system to the point that rage is externally projected towards members of society.

In my experience tolerance is equally as dangerous as intolerance when situated as a binary concept without questions. One is neither good nor bad it is our application, motivations, intentions, and lack of curiosity about the shade and light in both that pins us down and holds us hostage.

I am learning that I still have much to learn. I am recognising that I have been born into tolerance, I have been raised to be small, no ripple, no wave. I am learning how to stand tall; learning how to use my voice and say, ‘that is so not ok’ and to use intolerance and tolerance in a way to carve clear my motivations and intentions, to question the light and shade in my own notions and actions.

I realise this comes with consequences that are not all easy or comfortable. However, I must be ready to be courageous and brave the choices I make if I am to be the person, I want working alongside the grandchildren I have and the ones I am yet to meet.

With love and huge thanks to Auriel Majumdar, Dana Abdulkarim, Jesse Butler and Christian Phillips I am nourished and humbled by our conversations and friendship.

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