The Human Experience

Are You Tolerant?

Overcoming false tolerance to free your authentic self

Loosen the shackles of perceptual confinement through authenticity. (photo: #82101767)

It can be argued that intolerance is at the core of nearly all conflict. From religious wars and ethnic cleansing to political stalemates and social unrest to failed relationships and family grievances, intolerance breeds divisiveness and hostility.

Tolerance, on the other hand, is a pathway to resolution and peace.

But what does it mean to be truly tolerant? What happens when we misrepresent our inner feelings? How does our self-image affect our capacity for honest communication? How can authenticity free us from denial and enable true connection?

Like so many of life’s grand questions, the answers lie within ourselves.

Intolerance, Tolerance, and “False Tolerance”

Most everyone agrees on the definition of intolerance, an unwillingness to accept views, beliefs, or behaviors that differ from one’s own. It is fairly easy to spot in another person, and we generally know when we’re being intolerant ourselves, whether we choose to admit it or not.

Tolerance, however, is open to debate because acceptance, in practice, is often a matter of degree. Complicating things even more, I contend there is true tolerance and what I’ll term false tolerance, which is slightly different than intolerance.

Conflict inevitably results when we commit false tolerance because we are merely postponing our intolerance.

True tolerance is when one accepts something for what it is or is not and renders no personal judgment regarding the particular action, word, person or situation. One has total acceptance whether or not they personally agree or disagree. There is no silent questioning of underlying motives. There is no unexpressed objection or unspoken labeling of person, statement or deed. There is only acceptance.

Indeed true tolerance is an ideal, and as such, is rarely experienced in its authentic form. What is more often experienced, both as sender and receiver, is false tolerance, which is merely the superficial appearance of tolerance. It is intolerance cloaked in the guise of tolerance.

This is what we do when we want to appear tolerant, avoid the perception that we are intolerant, or evade the accusation of not being a nice person. We go to great lengths to avoid any negative perception of ourselves. That is why people have invented false tolerance. It’s why we allow it to operate in others, and it’s why they indulge us when we use it for our own self-serving purposes.

We silently agree that none of us want to look bad so we all turn a blind eye when someone employs a culturally-accepted method of escaping critical scrutiny. We don’t necessarily like to witness it in another person, but to highlight and condemn it leaves us vulnerable to the same criticism the next time we need the tool. So we play along, mindlessly accepting and condoning one another’s dishonesty for the benefit of all.

But does false tolerance benefit everyone? Or is it, more precisely, every one? It’s available to each person, and it may benefit each of us individually in the moment, but it’s detrimental to the collective whole because it fosters societal dishonesty. Our collective tolerance of false tolerance condones a lack of authenticity in ourselves, in others, and in the interactions between us.

We have not honestly shared our truth, yet we continue to expect informed responses from uninformed persons.

When we allow inauthentic projections of self, we undermine our reality and the foundation of how we understand each other because there are no regulations on untruths. There are little untruths and big untruths. There are small oversights and major cover-ups. There are harmless embellishments and outright fabrications. How do we discern the difference?

Moreover, once we accept untruth in any small part, we open ourselves to the whole spectrum of untruth. We cannot dictate how another sells their story, to what extent they mix truth with denials of their hidden truths. And since we want to believe what we see and hear, we generally choose to accept it all. At the same time, we are aware of our submission to the unwritten code that allows untruths to be rendered as protective measures against unsavory truths. So how do we know what’s real?

We can’t know another person’s whole truth accurately — there is only perception. We exchange words and perform actions to share our perception of ourselves and to construct our estimations of others, but we are constantly challenged by the duality of what’s presented and what’s kept hidden.

We shouldn’t be in the business of continually deciphering our conversations and delineating truth from lies because we are unable to do it reliably. Human perception and judgement have proven throughout the ages to be incredibly biased, muddled by internal motives, influenced by external forces and, in a word, inaccurate.

False Tolerance in Action

It is important to understand false tolerance and recognize inauthentic behavior if we intend to eradicate it within ourselves.

False tolerance is the illusion of tolerance when we are secretly intolerant. It occurs when our spoken untruth (a lie) is in opposition to our unspoken truth (our true inner feelings). It appears when we allow ourselves to be dishonest and outwardly express a favorable opinion when we actually disapprove. It arises when we contend we are making no judgment about a person or situation when in fact we are labeling, drawing conclusions, and projecting. False tolerance is present when we pretend to be neutral when in fact we have a vested interest. It is there when we say we are unaffected by a choice but are internally modified by the outcome. All of these manifestations constitute false tolerance.

By choosing authenticity and honesty in our words and actions, false tolerance will cease to exist and we’ll remove the mutual burden of decoding our existence.

As senders of information, we are conscious of our untruths and the contradiction between our external projections and internal thoughts, but the receivers are not privy to this information. They only experience our presentation and are therefore subject to the consequences of our untruths. Often these exchanges result in confusion and conflict as the receivers attempt to reconcile what was witnessed with what was experienced.

Perhaps a general example is useful. Person A asks Person B if he or she would object to a certain proposed action of A. B has no objections. A acts as proposed. B responds negatively. A is confused. Both A and B are upset.

Sound familiar? Person A and Person B may represent individuals or groups of people or entire nations. We may find ourselves in the role of either A or B depending on the particular circumstance, and the proposed actions are innumerable, but the general format is well understood and is an ongoing source of conflict in many relationships. It is false tolerance in action.

Conflict inevitably results when we commit false tolerance because we are merely postponing our intolerance. We project the appearance of acceptance to preserve our positive outward image, but the intolerance within us remains.

Sometimes, we want the receiver to magically see through our stated untruth and recognize the unspoken truth, thus protecting us from having to formally reveal our actual feelings.

We even try to justify this hopeless notion by deeming it a test of the other person’s friendship, love or knowledge of us. We figure that if he or she was a good enough friend, or loved us enough, or knew us so well, then they would see through our veiled acceptance and realize that we are actually intolerant of the proposed behavior.

If the unwitting object of this impossible game fails to accurately discern our truth from untruth, we feel betrayed and hurt, even though it is we who have done the injustice. We have not provided the necessary information. We have not honestly shared our truth, yet we continue to expect informed responses from uninformed persons.

It is a ridiculous exercise, and the results are random at best. The untruth has been propagated in hopes that the truth will not be necessary, but all too often, our true intolerance eventually surfaces, much to everyone’s anguish.

Over time, these repeated, outward denials of our internal reality reshape our self-image. We come to believe we are more tolerant, and our communication and behavior move even farther from the truth. We walk ourselves over to a self-perception that feels better, one that allows us to exist more comfortably in the public eye.

The internal and external mechanisms of false tolerance are inherently inauthentic, and they perpetuate disingenuous behavior throughout society.

A New Way Forward

I suggest a new forum of truth. Let us find the honor in truth and display it with abandon. The good, the bad and the ugly all conveyed with unflinching accuracy for all to see. We will be unashamed.

By choosing authenticity and honesty in our words and actions, false tolerance will cease to exist, and we’ll remove the mutual burden of decoding our existence. We’ll simply be our authentic self, and our words and actions will automatically follow suit. Our receivers will know exactly where we stand. They will trust us to accurately express our thoughts and feelings. We will no longer waste mental energy determining truth from untruth or worrying over the potential errors in our estimations.

We’ll say what we mean and mean what we say, to borrow an old cliché. It will be the new dynamic of exchange. The new standard operating procedure for communication. It will set us free and clear our cluttered minds, thereby opening us to further expansion and growth.

Everyone will participate in the new order. We will all subscribe to the new paradigm as fastidiously as we did the old. There is no reason to assume one ideology is superior to another solely on the basis of its history of use.

Sound idealistic? Of course. But so did other big ideas before they became mainstream. Some concepts simmer slowly before garnering enough support to overcome cultural norms. It won’t be easy. True change is arduous and is often accompanied by pain and loss.

The process of redefining ourselves authentically not only benefits us internally, but we begin to experience human interaction on a deeper and more meaningful level.

Working Towards Authenticity

Authenticity requires an honest look at one’s self. An unbiased, unrelenting, and uncompromising examination of all we are and all we are not. It can be a complex and painful process if done thoroughly.

We must remove the shrouds of perception and expose the underlying raw material to ourselves and to others. This process is fraught with pain because often we do not like ourselves enough to be transparent in the world. Baring all, we uncover the traits, thoughts and desires we use untruths to disguise.

Sometimes we are so adept in our deceptions that we ourselves have forgotten what truths lurk beneath, and so we are surprised to see ourselves in the newly cleaned mirror. We have spent years constructing our self-perception through denial, and the crushing of that facade is a cataclysmic event for our psyche.

Self-image is our foundation, and its demise means we no longer feel safe, solid, or grounded. We no longer trust ourselves or our surroundings. We are floating uncomfortably, and as we drift further away from our old perceptions of self, we scramble to regain our version of normalcy. In fear, we close our minds to the new ideal and tenaciously cling to what we know.

However, it is only through the destruction of our foundation of self-deception that we can be released. That unnatural feeling of floating is the experience of freedom. We should enjoy and embrace it, but we have been taught through experience to fear the unknown. So we resist.

Usually, we haven’t ventured far enough to be unable to return. And then we sit on the edge of our cracked and crumbled foundation, tending our wounds and shaken minds, feeling naked and battered. We regroup, close the door, and resume our submission to more familiar doctrines. We have failed, and further, we are scarred by our attempt. We have learned our lesson. Stay put. Stay safe.

It is this type of experience that makes meaningful personal change so difficult and so rare. But we must persist. We must remember that no change comes without sustained effort and discomfort.

We cannot shake the realm of false tolerance if we cannot re-establish ourselves as authentic beings. We will not be tolerant of others unless we first learn to be tolerant of ourselves. Self-tolerance is an authentic admission to self of one’s true identity, followed by a truthful representation of that reality to others, and a total acceptance of the outcome. When individuals project themselves honestly, society as a whole becomes more authentic, and true tolerance is possible.

The Rewards

Real change can only spring from awareness, and consequently, forging a path to authenticity and true tolerance simultaneously clears the way for other areas of personal growth.

Discovering our authentic selves does not mean we are permanently fixed in the newly-exposed reality of self. On the contrary, as our shortcomings are stripped of denial and fully revealed, we are empowered to effect positive change. We can choose which parts are to remain and which parts are to be revamped, reconfigured, and reinstated. We can bring to life positive traits that lie dormant and extinguish negative traits that have run unchecked. We can develop safeguards against harmful characteristics and plant the seeds of new desirable qualities.

The process of redefining ourselves authentically not only benefits us internally, but we begin to experience human interaction on a deeper and more meaningful level.

We cannot expect another to know us thoroughly, to know our thoughts and feelings and intended motives in every possible combination of situations and conditions. Human beings are continually evolving, and therefore current knowledge of another person is merely a product of past perceptions. Only we know what we are thinking and feeling at any given moment, and hence it is our duty to share that reality with others if we wish them to interact with us in a manner we desire.

If we project untruth, then it is only reasonable to expect others to propagate untruth. Only when we project our truth can we expect others to know and understand our reality, to know who we really are. Further, we can project our truth only when we have an authentic self-image, one free from disguise and denial.

With self-awareness and authenticity, we loosen the shackles of perceptual confinement, remove the conflicts of false tolerance, and become able to openly share our reality and fully experience the reality of another — the very essence of true connection.

Thank you for reading. See more commentary and creative writing on my profile page.

Observer. Thinker. Mindful Human.

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