Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tolerance and Altered States

I have a very low tolerance for drugs and alcohol, so I avoid them. I can't take so much as a decongestant without unpredictable and often drooling results. I have a very scientific theory about this, if you're interested. I think that my natural state is altered enough, thank you very much, and if I add any sort of chemical enhancement to this, things go completely haywire. I am afraid to mess with my equilibrium.

Altered states and tolerance.

Tolerance has become a buzzword. Generally it is trotted out when you think I am wrong and I want you to shut up. You should be more tolerant. If you were tolerant, you would just admit that I'm right. When we practice tolerance, it's usually of things and people with whom we already agree, or of whom we already approve. I am tolerant of children if they are well behaved. I am tolerant of people who disagree with me on matters about which I don't care a whole lot.

Tolerance. It sounds like it should have a "p" in front of it, like Ptolomy. Ptolerance. Maybe if we put a "p" in front of it, it would remind us to p-p-practice it. It would elevate it from a mere retaliatory talking point to an art, a science, a Philosophy.

Inherent in the definition of tolerance is disagreement. I would argue that it implies a sort of structural, atomic disagreement. I would argue that in order to tolerate something, you must reject it. Wait a second, that doesn't make any sense. No, it doesn't. But neither does tolerance when you think about it. It's unnatural. It is an altered state.

An example is in order here. I absolutely hated and despised the book Eat, Pray, Love. I thought it was whiny and self-indulgent; I thought the writing was only mediocre; I thought that the author spent a lot of money and a lot of time to learn nothing at all. Do you want to know how I really felt about it? The book was a bestseller. It was highly recommended to me by people whom I respect and love. Enough people loved it that Julia Roberts agreed to be in the movie version of it. I cannot fathom at all how all of these people could be so wrong. I have tried very, very hard to understand the liking - even loving - of this book and alas, I cannot. I fundamentally disagree with anyone who says it was a good book. Therefore, they are all idiots and I shall never speak to them again. I will degrade them and belittle them for having such abysmal taste in literature at every opportunity I get.  I will create opportunities to tell them how awful it was. This, of course, is ridiculous. What kind of jerk would act that way? Don't answer that.

When it's boiled down to something as relatively silly as an opinion about a book, it's kind of obvious, isn't it? Of course I can accept a difference in perspective. I don't have to believe that my assessment of it is wrong to understand that other people might have reached a different conclusion. Nor do I have to believe that my assessment is the only correct view of the book. Of the friends who recommended the book to me, one was at a particular place in her life where elements of the story "spoke to her", another just liked the descriptions of the food and the places. Fair enough. There needn't be any judgement in that, really. They live in their heads, in their lives and they know what works for them. We practice tolerance of each other's points of view because we love each other and because that's more important to the greater good than whether or not we enjoy the exact same books.

It gets trickier, though. I know this. The root of intolerance, I believe, is fear. We are intolerant of things that we perceive as a threat to our well-being or way of life. We don't want our equilibrium upset. We are afraid of the unpredictable, perhaps drooling, results of the viewpoints of others.

There are some things that shouldn't be tolerated: murder, dishonesty, theft, injustice. Yet, we sometimes find ourselves tolerating them by default. My jBird told me a lie a few weeks ago. I will admit, I completely lost it, folks. "I will not tolerate lying in my house!" boomed the Mama voice. But I do, don't I? What can I do but put up with it when it happens? I can correct, instruct, fume and rage about, but when it comes down to it, I must tolerate it because I have no control whatsoever of the things that my jBird chooses to say. I can only control how I react, the input I give her, and the encouragement I show for doing what's right. The rest is up to her.

That's the root of that intolerant fear, isn't it? The rest is up to her. We are so convinced of our rightness. We are so sure that ours is the way things should go. If only they could just see how it is. If only they would just admit they are wrong. It is frightening to leave it up to them. It upsets our equilibrium. Except when you realize that you are them. To someone else, you are them. You are the they who have it so backwards. I don't care what your stance on anything at all is, you are someone's them. The idea of you making up your mind on your own is keeping someone else awake at night. And you know what? They are every bit as committed to their viewpoint as you are. They believe with all their hearts that their beliefs are valid. They fear for their future just like you do. They worry about the state of things, they get excited when things seem to go their way, they have their doubts, their discouragements, their concerns, just like you.

So, tolerance. Or, if you prefer, ptolerance. Does it mean you lay aside your own opinion, your own beliefs? Absolutely not. Who are we if not a product of our beliefs and preferences? I guess that's the rub, though. We are all that product, which means we are all as different as the ingredients that make us up. We can't control anyone except ourselves. The rest is up to them. And that's tolerance in a nutshell, isn't it? I may think you've misjudged. I may not be able to understand at all where you are coming from in spite of trying. I may believe exactly the opposite about something and you won't be able to persuade me otherwise. I may even offer suggestions to you about how to see it my way. But when all is said and done, tolerance is my understanding that the rest is up to you and that's all right.

I am speaking of personal tolerance, here. In the end, it is the only sort of tolerance there is. As fanciful as it may seem, there is a vast human civilization out there who operate or have operated for millennia under immensely different codes of law, types of government, living conditions. We can legislate all the tolerance we want, but if it is not found in the hearts of the citizens, the law is difficult to uphold. I am not talking about voting here. I am talking about how you decide to live regardless of circumstance. Expressing your tolerance with your vote is a terribly important thing, but even more important is expressing your tolerance with your life. With your everyday interactions. You cannot blame lawmakers for your reactions to those who disagree with you any more than my jBird can blame me for lying to me. That part is up to you. It is always up to you.

Tolerance is seeing the person behind the belief; it is thinking in terms of individuals rather than stereotypes. It is accepting your own doubts and understanding that you could be wrong, but you choose to believe you are right. It is knowing that other people are doing the same thing. It is listening for what people are actually saying rather than hearing what you expect. It is disagreeing right down to your very core and accepting the possible validity anyway.

It is not our gut reaction, it is an altered state.


  1. "It is listening for what people are actually saying rather than hearing what you expect." So well said, as always.

    1. Hi Jewels. Thank you. That's the only line in this post that I really like. You have good taste. ;)

  2. Ptolerance. I like it. :)

    I think of tolerance as symbiosis. We might not be completely different organisms, but we have different opinions, thoughts and beliefs, each vital to make our environment what it is. Thought-provoking post as always.

    P.S. Papa is Preacher would like to cordially invite you to our very first Link Up party beginning tomorrow (Thursday) at 9:30 a.m. going 'till Tuesday. Please see this post for more info: http://papaisapreacher.blogspot.ca/2012/10/tidbit-thursday.html
    We'd really be honored to see you there!

    1. It's more fun to say that way, isn't it? Ptolerance.
      Don't think too hard about it. This post is complete nonsense.

  3. Beege and I were talking about just this the other day; we've added "let's agree to disagree" to her lexicon.

    1. How funny! That's a very useful phrase for the strong willed among us. Is Beege perhaps strong willed?
      Of course it gets right up under my skin if someone says it to me!

    2. I'm not all that fond of the phrase either, but when you've spent the past twenty minutes arguing with a six year old over something really stupid (even though you're the grown-up here, and you know better, darn it) I think it's necessary. Sometimes you just have to accept that neither of you will change your mind and move along.

      And yes, Beege could definitely be described as "strong willed".

    3. I am so glad that I am not the only person who gets into intense, lengthy debates over stupid things with children. I just can't stop myself sometimes. My jBird is getting to the point where she wins, though. My husband just shakes his head. "You're really going to take her on about this?"
      Why yes, it would appear I am.

  4. I guess I don't like tolerance because to me it contains the idea of holding separate, of putting up with. I hope I can accept fully, not merely tolerate. To me, tolerance is an in-between state that I'm not sure is even possible. It implies putting up with another's beliefs while still holding that your own are superior. It maintains the lie of separateness and establishes hierarchies, which are exactly what the concept of tolerance is trying to defy. The goal is then to move beyond tolerance and into compassion, which transcends beliefs rather than merely . . . tolerating them.

    1. I agree with you completely.
      I was playing with an idea for another piece of writing and posted my exercises here. I really hate this post for a number of reasons.
      Compassion is really where it's at.

  5. I keep reading your stuff and not commenting, because I feel like all I ever say is something along the lines of, "Good job, TangledLou. I love your writing..."

    But perhaps that's better than saying nothing at all? I'm not sure. So here I am again to say, Good job TangledLou. You inspire me, both in my life as well as in my writing. Thank you.

    1. Hi Deb! It makes me happy to know that you still read. The commenting thing is a weird blogging construct, isn't it? It's nice to hear a hello, but not necessary.
      That said, what a nice little shot of adrenalin to see your beautiful little hennaed hands here on my comment feed and seeing such nice words... I am humbled and flattered and so, so very grateful. xo

  6. OK, it's been WAY too long since I checked my Google Reader. I've been following you on Facebook and hence missed this one post. Mea culpa. I spent many years deriding "tolerance" as a concept for all the reasons outlined above until it occurred to me that I agree with my own point of view. And this for me was a "Duh." moment.

    Admitting that I agree with my own point of view causes me to have to admit that I may not agree with yours. (This also means seeing that, for me, right at this moment, subjectively, my views ARE superior. Otherwise they wouldn't BE mine. This is purely logical.)

    If I'm not lying to myself, all I can strive for is tolerance. The alternative is a full frontal lobotomy. We all have opinions, stances, passions, and perspectives. I would hazard that we are made this way, that we are "supposed to." So, I see nothing shameful in celebrating and being public about my own point of view and attempting to do so with honor, integrity and kindness. I think practicing tolerance and, for me, calling for tolerance in the public sphere, is more honest than pretending I can really know what it would feel like to think in opposition to myself.

    I loved your post. I'm sorry you hated it. And I am totally stepping off my soapbox now. I hope you can use some of the bubbles to mop up your floor.

    1. You are so funny. I had this exact conversation with myself a few weeks ago. "This also means seeing that, for me, right at this moment, subjectively, my views ARE superior. Otherwise they wouldn't BE mine. This is purely logical." I almost said this exact thing. Crazy.


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