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One recent Thanksgiving conversation with my uncles turned to desperately racist jokes. Always game for discussion, I called my uncle out on his joke. His response? “I’m the most tolerant person you’ll ever meet.” I’ve continued to think about his response and how, to him, being tolerant was enough.
If you want to build relationships that are structured to be rewarding in the long term, you’ll learn to be more than tolerant. You’ll learn to accept.
Tolerance has been tossed around a lot in recent years as political, religious, and racial groups discuss how others must tolerate differing agendas, beliefs, and cultures. But toleration brings with it the idea that what you’re tolerating is something inferior. You might tolerate a differing opinion, or you could accept it as an idea while choosing to disagree with it. See the difference? To illustrate:
I had already been on a few dates with a woman named Lauren. She was great to talk to, we laughed at the same things, and generally enjoyed each other’s company. As the old saying goes, “things led on to things” and, one evening at my apartment, clothes started coming off. As I started to lift her shirt, she quietly asked me to stop.
Upon questioning, she revealed that she had significant scarring on her upper body that she was extremely self-conscious of and that historically, guys had seen it as a huge turn-off. It was a moment where choice of words meant everything.
“What if I were blind?” I asked. “Would I find you sexy?”
“Oh, I suppose. Do you want to be blind?” She ventured.
I moved to turn the lights off.
“I feel pretty blind right now.” I said through the darkness.
She giggled and reached for me.
Later, the lights came on and it turned out her scarring wasn’t nearly as bad as she’d made it out to be. The gentle lines I’d felt came from skin grafts she’d needed after a bad car accident. The resulting joke was that she’d had bionic arms installed. As we continued to discover things about each other, her brave revelation of physical scars set a precedent for all of our discussions.
When you set about removing the layers that make up a person, you will always discover things that you initially find new, different, and even disturbing or revolting. Keep in mind that the other person probably already knows the nature of what you’ve uncovered and is waiting to see how you respond. Build habits of acceptance instead of tolerance. Those habits will allow you to honestly learn about others instead of creating lists of dislikes that eventually grow into massively bitter creatures.
As you come across new or differing concepts and opinions, consider meeting them with acceptance and contemplation instead of tolerance. You’ll find that people will quickly open up to you. Dates will be more rewarding, and existing relationships will find better footing.
Have a wonderful week!