Do you consider yourself a tolerant person?
That word used to have a very positive meaning in the past. It meant that you were graciously putting up with things you didn’t like, or agree with, for the sake of harmony in your community. More often this was a behavior required of women, children, anyone of color, or servants—occasionally it was also required of men in the realm of politics or business.
The benefit of maintaining tolerance was being able to remain in your community. Even today, the power of religious and political tolerance remains the primary instrument of peace between us in what could otherwise result in a downward spiral of violence.
Yet there is a cost to blindly considering tolerance as globally beneficial.
Tolerance means that we’re “putting up with” something or someone; when we do it all the time, we effectively put ourselves in neutral—and we can’t effectively engage in our lives.
Although remaining neutral had its benefits for our ancestors, and still does for us in the religious and political realms, it costs us mightily when we use it as a default position.
Think about it—what does it cost you to tolerate:
- A negative job situation?
- An ineffective or problematic employee?
- A destructive relationship?
- Financial problems?
- Anything that causes you harm?
Tolerating these kinds of things costs you valuable energy and reduces your ability to engage in your life. When it costs you so much energy to withstand the challenges you face that there’s nothing left over for enjoyment, it feels like the only option is to find escape…And we often find it by distracting ourselves instead of getting the relief we need by addressing what we’re tolerating.
Here are some of the symptoms we experience when we’re tolerating something:
- We shut off our feelings so we can stay neutral
- We put our shoulders to the wheel, keep moving through it and grit our teeth
- We mentally “go limp”
If these symptoms are familiar and you discover that you’re tolerating things in your life, you have the choice to experiment. Since toleration can drain the vibrancy right out of your life, it’s worth exploring the ways you can decrease the number of things you’re tolerating.
Here’s a simple strategy I use in my own life—and with my clients—that can help you to discover the benefits of reducing the number of things you’re tolerating:
- Pick a minor irritation that you know you’re tolerating—for the first one, pick one that only affects you. (I recently discovered just how much I was tolerating one of my social media platforms, so I’ll use that as an example of the kind of great first choice in this process.)
- For one week, decide to eliminate it from your life and see how that feels. You’re likely to experience a jolt of energy when you let it go. (In my case, I stayed off this platform for a week. The instant I made the decision to get off it, I felt so delighted that I was free of it! It was such a relief.)
- After one week, check how much you miss this thing (or activity, person or place) you’ve temporarily let go of and decide if you want to take it back. Determine if the resulting energy and lightness you got while away from it are worth letting it go permanently. Now you have a choice. (In my case, it was a total no-brainer: I knew I was never going back. Although I occasionally visit this platform, I will never tolerate being on it every day the way I used to before. I’ve replaced my tolerance of this platform with my total engagement and delight on Pinterest, and I’ve never looked back!)
Now that you know how it works, keep experimenting. Use it on bigger and bigger things that you’re tolerating and see just how much energy and vibrancy you’ll recapture in your life.
These days I know just how powerful it is to be able to dance with whatever shows up, so I stay very conscious of what I’m tolerating. Toleration really cuts into my ability to stay emotionally flexible and mentally agile, which is what I call “dancing.” It’s much more effective for me—and everyone I come in contact with—to stay vibrantly engaged in the work I do.
My ultimate goal is to tolerate nothing, to actively see the goodness in each and everything I’m faced with, whether I agree with it or not. That’s how I’ll be able to dance with whatever shows up and accomplish everything possible in the life I have left.
How about you? Let me know what you think!