From The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: tol·er·ance: 1. The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others. 2. The capacity to endure hardship or pain.
I made a promise to myself that when I started writing articles for my website I would focus on what issues currently were being raised in my personal life. Lately, I’ve been getting strong indications that tolerance, or my lack of it, is something I clearly need to look at. So, I’m delving into it with fear tossed aside, knowing that if I don’t look at it now, I quite possibly face an even more painful lesson on it in the future. I’m presenting this article to you in hopes of sharing insight you may find useful in developing coping methods for yourself or others.
Conceptually we know the importance of remaining tolerant to the diverse attitudes, behaviors, and cultures we find ourselves experiencing nearly every day. Does that stop us from instantly losing our cool when another driver suddenly pulls into our lane, cutting us off so that we have to slam on our brakes and slow us way down? Then we patiently wait for the driver to pick up speed, enough to do the speed limit, only to find they continue to putt along at 35 m.p.h. in a 55 zone. That’s when we really lose it. I know, because I’ve been there several times. And I don’t even drive in commuter traffic on a regular basis. But I’m sure the millions who do commute fight a mounting level of unhealthy stress as their tension builds up after one tolerance-testing incident after another. (I cite an example of driving in commuter traffic because I personally feel this activity is a clear, repeated test of tolerance in our society!)
“By taking revenge, a man is even with his enemy; but in passing over it, he is superior.” Francis Bacon
So now you’re asking, how do I deal with these everyday situations? My guidance shows me that in these situations we tend to take things too personally. It is obvious that the other driver doesn’t know you personally, so why would they want to be hurtful to you? One coping method for the above-mentioned situation is reminding yourself that you can’t possibly know the whole story of why the person is acting the way they do.
There can be many circumstances influencing their behavior: (1) perhaps they’re driving home from work, where they just got chewed out by their boss and are allowing their anger to be displayed in their actions on the road; (2) they could have just received bad news about a loved one’s illness and are in despair over it, inhibiting their mental functions to properly execute rational driving behavior; (3) or 100 other reasons unforeseen which I can continue on about. But I’m sure you see the point I’m trying to make here.
Their actions are caused by strictly personal issues which are affecting their behavior, inadvertently affecting others in their external world. Simply reminding ourselves that we can look at this from a higher perspective by acknowledging we don’t know the whole story and that this person may be going through difficult times can be enough to relax about it and develop increased tolerance.
This way of thinking can apply to not only mundane experiences such as commuting, but in bringing peace to perplexing relationships with others at work, family matters, and in our interactions with others in our community, not to mention on a global scale with those of varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Instead of struggling to change unchangeable situations, an easier solution is to adjust our own perspective.
In addition, the following technique is immensely healing for those tolerance-testing circumstances. Immediately after a tense, anxiety-producing situation, take a deep breath and mentally blow out all of the tension to which you are holding on.
You can imagine this tension as an unpleasant color, such as gray, and mentally watch this gray energy leaving your body through your breath. With each in-breath, picture a calming color entering your body, eventually filling it to overflowing. Continue to repeat this until you feel calm once again. This helps you to return to a state of mind where you can then look at the situation from that higher perspective I mentioned above.
“In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” Dalai Lama
It’s helpful to understand why we react in an overly sensitive manner to begin with. We are conditioned by past experiences to respond with strong emotions when we perceive possible harm toward our bodies or emotions. Feeling vulnerable, we feel the need to be further protected from hurt, so in response we activate our learned defense mechanisms.
If we continue to respond with anger to the slightest perceived annoyance, however, then the cause may be deeper than we first thought. Anger can act as a cover-up emotion, and may signal that a suppressed fear is persisting in our lives which we need to take a look at. If this is the case, be sure you have support, perhaps a therapist, who can assist you in discovering this underlying fear, and openly and effectively deal with it.
“Tolerance implies a respect for another person, not because he is wrong or even because he is right, but because he is human.” John Cogley Commonweal
An important strategy for developing tolerance under certain circumstances is forgiveness. Forgiving others that have acted hurtful toward you in the past brings about immense feelings of release and freedom from old resentments that are keeping you stalled from growing in your life. In hypnotherapy sessions I have witnessed transformations created by the simple act of forgiveness, either of someone else or of themselves.
By allowing this process a person can form greater self respect by refusing to allow the resentment to continue grow and fester inside them, holding them back from finding peace and satisfaction within themselves. As an aside benefit, forgiveness eliminates obstacles in a person’s life. There’s a good chance that the other person may not even be aware of the harsh feelings you bear toward them, so what purpose is your bitterness serving?
When you understand that maintaining resentment only hurts yourself, and not the other person you feel strongly toward, you can then let go of the old pain and give yourself permission to experience joy and positive growth.