Becoming More Tolerant

Last week I was presenting a mentoring session focused on human-centered change management. While the focus of the session was on change within the business context the question was asked how we change people’s minds to accept vaccination. Given the recent emphasis of vaccination against COVID-19 and its strains, and the strong response from anti-vaxxers, the question drew more questions around how to address racism, patronage and so on. I jokingly replied that I would solve world peace shortly. Earnestly though my advice was to have the tough conversations. It takes education to change minds – education that actually focusses on taking abroad range of perspectives into account.  And that I think is the downfall of how we communicate.

For too long we have been taught that there is a binary approach to life. That there is only one correct way, that there is a mould to fit into, or that by poor luck no matter what one does there no way you can ever fit into the mould. As a Strengths coach and avid follower of positive psychology, I believe in leveraging diversity, and not just the gender, race, creed, colour or religion version, but all diversity. When we disagree it means there are multiple perspectives to celebrate, when there is more than one opinion, it provides us with options.  In a world full of complexity, is this not the time to break away from the binary and embrace variety and diversity? But what does it take to make this move?

  1. Identify your tolerance levels
    The first step is to understand your own levels of tolerance. Now, before you go all binary, it is important not to judge yourself. Consider life as a ladder, there will always be people below you on the ladder and people above you on the ladder there is no reason to judge. However, it is important to understand to what degree you are open to new and different concepts. You may find you are on different places on the ladder depending on the topic.
  2. Inspect your values
    Our values are the most basic building blocks of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour – they are the guardians of who we are. Given that, it is important to understand your values and how they influence you. Values that are inadvertently triggered can derail any attempt to remain tolerant, so be aware of what and where those triggers are.
  3. Avoid getting offended
    Being offended can be a lovely sensation. Think about it, when we feel offended we are filled with some righteous thought that we are perfect, that we have it all together and the other person (normally the word person is replaced by many less agreeable terms) is entirely wrong. Not a little wrong, but a lot wrong and that gives us license to stop listening. That path however does not lead to our goal of being accepting of diversity. Work hard at not being offended, try to understand where others are coming from. Forgive them for not having the right words to make the communication easy maybe no-one before has been prepared to listen to them.
  4. Choose understanding
    From the above we can see that being open to alternatives is a process guided by discipline. We can choose to try and understand others, we can choose to be open to alternative perspectives. We can choose to listen for understanding… not just to toss back another clever quip. I am not saying we always have to agree, but I think it is great when we disagree intelligently. This means we disagree with a variety of facts in hand, from a variety of perspectives. But at least along the way we learned a few things, that will help us be better informed next time around.