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Words and Tolerance

Many words do not mean what they did a generation ago. Words tend to evolve or temper in meaning over time wherever you live. This word change scenario happens in every culture and it complicates choosing the right words in conversation to be clearly understood. Especially, with folks outside of your own everyday people groups.

Most of us can relate to this word phenomena, though we can’t always figure out what happened when someone we’re chatting with has that trigger reaction. Today, it’s easier than ever to ignite emotions in conversation simply by choosing particular words. Especially, with people you don’t know well… heck, even with those you know really well. Think about all those upcoming family conversations around holiday tables… we all have subjects we purposefully avoid with family!

This post is the start of a blog series I’m doing on words. I’m choosing words that I find inspiring, others just thought-provoking. Because, words seem to hold very different meanings with different people groups these days.

The first word is one I never fully understood. In fact, I always wondered why we had museums dedicated to it. Yet, in this post-election and pre-holiday climate, I’m thinking it’s a good word to start with… tolerance.

My previous understanding of tolerating something or someone in the first half of life always left me questioning why humans should just put up with each other. To me, it seemed that our god-given hearts should make us better than that. Especially for those of us who claim any loving religious faith.

However, I’ve now lived long enough to know that life with fellow humans is complicated, unpredictable and downright hard. Second half of life wisdom allows me to conclude that all of us could benefit from honing this chosen word as a keeper character trait. It’s one which can help promote mindfulness in both trying and good times.

tolerance noun:1. the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with. Synonyms: open-mindedness, broad-mindedness, forbearance, liberality; patience, charity, indulgence, understanding

How, in this season, might we all choose to develop healthy tolerance? Many of us seem stretched to whit’s end with existing political and partnering economic systems. These systems feel like they are pulling us further apart, rather than fostering collaboration of all our unique gifts and strengths for the common good of everyone.

I’m thinking simple choices. Those leaning towards a good posture of tolerance is the starting point. Choices that develop understanding, bridge-building with people not like ourselves, and healthy responses formed by asking questions as to why certain people or groups hold a view or opinion.

If you don’t have any thoughts or an action plan to stretch outside of your comfort norms to help build a tolerance posture, I would encourage you to consider 3 simple steps:

1 ~ Begin to simply acknowledge people’s presence in small ways(nod, smile, say hey) on your everyday walks and interactions with everyone, especially people of color. One of my African American friends tells me he always mentally prepares for “white” women to grip their children or cross the street when they see him coming down the sidewalk, even when he’s dressed in business attire… Friends, we can choose to change that by making conscious choices of honoring every human’s presence. Plus, our world is browning. We must prepare our children better than most of us were prepared to embrace diversity.

2 ~ Choose to watch a movie on our nation’s history from another perspective and discuss it with friends or family. I saw “Birth of a Nation” last month and honestly, it was very hard to talk about, let alone own the brutal truth of history as portrayed with our nation’s “white” heritage treatment of people of color. “Loving” is another movie out this week. These two films identify some our nation’s unhealthy heritage issues, which still haven’t been fully reconciled as the UN has requested the U.S. There are also many good kid-friendly films. Check out this list from Working Mother magazine.

3 ~ Last, every time you fill out a survey as a “white” person, or a person of color, question the meaning of the labeled “white” choice box. White is not a race, it was a social construct label, created as a means of segregation and dominance. When there is a comment section on the questionnaire, I also ask the business to remove that descriptor from the form. We must start shifting our thinking and challenging mindsets around how we look at descriptors, especially ones that perpetuate unhealthy “us and them” scenarios.

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