Do You Need a Tolerance Reset?

Most of us believe we’re open-minded and see ourselves as tolerant human beings. But how tolerant are we, really?

Most of us believe we’re open-minded and see ourselves as tolerant human beings.  Here in America, we state in our Bill of Rights that people should be free to express their opinions even when we, personally, might find those opinions short-sighted, ill-informed, or, well, just plain wrong.

But how tolerant are we, really?

In an article on political tolerance, author Patricia G. Avery states that while 90% of U.S. citizens profess a strong belief in freedom of speech, only about one-half to one-third of them said they would be willing to extend the right to those whose ideas they strongly disliked.  Clearly, we’re not as open-minded as we would like to believe.

The issue of tolerance came to my attention in a personal way last week when a friend told me about his young daughter’s criticisms of his house, car, time use and personality during their regular weekly visit.

Since I know my friend’s ex-wife, the source of his daughter’s opinions was obvious to me.  “Kids of all ages,” say the folks at kidshealth,org, “develop their own values, in great part, by mirroring the values and attitudes of those they care about.”  This little girl was simply mirroring her mom.

I suggested that my friend think of ways he could help his daughter understand that being different isn’t the same as being bad. People have different preferences, priorities, beliefs and styles—and they can be as life-affirming and wonderful as our own.

But learning that is not an easy thing for any of us.  And especially in the polarized atmosphere of our current world, most of us could benefit from a good tolerance-expanding stretch.

How Tolerance Enriches Us . . . and Intolerance Hurts

Intolerance doesn’t necessarily mean we’re hostile to differences—although it may mean that.  And because it may, intolerance can give rise to violence, both subtle and overt.  Telling your dad that he doesn’t live in a good enough house or drive a good enough car hurts him.

But beyond that, blindness to the spaces inside us where intolerance lives shuts us off to the contributions and characteristics of others that could enrich us.

When we hold stereotypes about  differences—about the nationality, political affiliation, religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, economic standing, occupation, educational level, or fashion sense of somebody—we  invalidate that person’s full humanity and cut ourselves off from his gifts.

When we take the time to learn from others’ differences, and to appreciate them, we give ourselves the opportunity to expand our range of tastes and experiences.  We open ourselves to discovering everything from a new type of food or music to a new way of problem solving or of seeing beauty or of deepening our compassion.   Appreciating others’ differences can also lead us to a deeper appreciation of our own uniqueness, breadth and values.

Positive Pathways to Tolerance

We tend to be most intolerant when we’re confronted with beliefs that are different from our own.   We care deeply, for example, about our political and spiritual views.   We see them as an essential part of our identities, thinking that what we believe defines who we are.

Of course if you really think about it, you realize that your beliefs continuously change over time as you gain more knowledge and life-experience.

Nevertheless, when we’re confronted with beliefs that conflict with our own, we can easily feel that we are being threatened, that we’re under attack.   We find ourselves feeling tense and defensive, ready to do battle.

But positivity broadens that perception.

In his study, Identity, Beliefs, Emotions and Negotiation Success, Clark Freshman notes that even “very small effects, such as a pleasant sound, a funny video, or a pleasant scent, shift our emotions enough to influence the way we negotiate.”    People are more cooperative when they’re happier.

In fact, studies conducted under the guidance of positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson show that “Even things that tend to divide people—like racial differences—seem to melt away when our hearts are warmed by positivity.”  Rigorous and repeated experiments in facial recognition clearly demonstrated that “Positive emotions didn’t simply diminish the entrenched racial bias, it eliminated it altogether. . .”

Fredrickson reports that some of the earliest studies in positivity clearly showed that when people feel good, they’re more likely to be kind and offer help to strangers.  “Positivity breeds helpful, compassionate acts,” she states.  “Just as positivity broadens our views of ‘me’ to include other people,” it broadens your view of ‘us’ to include all of us.”

Bolstering our own positivity helps us create a more united world.

How Mindfulness Promotes Tolerance

As a conclusion to his research, Clark Freshman suggests that the most effective way to develop and maintain open-mindedness toward others’ points of view is to cultivate mindfulness.

He describes mindfulness as “a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, physical sensations, emotions, and intentions . . . fully accepting and free from judgment.”

One of the simplest methods for generating awareness, he points out, is simply to pay attention to your breath.

Such mindfulness, Freshman states, lets us watch our thoughts, catching the ones that may be arising from prejudice.  It also allows us to notice physical signals, like scents or sounds, that may be impacting our moods, or physical tensions that we can relax to release unwanted emotions.

In fact, he suggests, cultivation of mindfulness may itself be effective enough to release us from the whole identity-belief-emotion network.

Mindfulness generates the freedom to be kind. And when you get down to heart of it, tolerance is kindness, an extension of the “golden rule” to treat others as you would want to be treated.

 

 

Photo by stock.xchange
Share

The Extraordinary Happiness of Heartfelt Giving

The happiness of giving isn't limited to giving money. Happy people give of their time, their skills, their labor, their expertise and wisdom.

Heart in HandsHappy people love to give.  They give of their time, their skills, their labor, their expertise and wisdom.  They give emotional support and acts of kindness.  They give material goods and money.   But whatever they give, say happiness researches Foster and Hicks,  they share one trait in common: They give from the heart.

The Science of Giving

Happy people give without expectation of return or reward.  But the reward is inherent in the act of giving itself.  Dr. Timothy Sharp from The Happiness Institute quoted a study on his blog last Christmas that took place at the University of Oregon.   The people who took part in the study were given $100.  Then they were shown scenarios in which they contributed to charity and their brains lit right up.  Giving makes us feel happy.  It’s a gift we give ourselves.

A study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and two of his colleagues from the University of British Columbia, Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin, bears the University of Oregon study out.  They found that giving as little as $5.00 per day to others produces happiness in the giver.   Their overall research showed that the percentage of one’s earnings that one spends prosocially—whether through gifts to individuals or to charities—is the predictor of happiness.  The more one gives, the happier he is.

Giving is Empathy in Action

But the happiness of giving is hardly limited to giving money.  Happy people, say Foster and Hicks, practice giving across the whole economic spectrum.  They share their smiles and their joy; they listen, thank and appreciate.

The bottom line is that giving is a generosity of spirit, rooted in giving ourselves as a caring response to others’ needs.

Giving might take the form of volunteering, or of helping your spouse with washing dishes or cleaning out the garage.  It might mean devoting time to playing with your children, or running errands for a homebound neighbor or friend.

It might be an appreciative comment to a harried store clerk or waitress, or giving your seat to someone on a bus.

The trait of giving is labeled “generativity”—being generous—by psychologist and researcher Paul Wink of Wellesley College.  He’s overseeing the longest-running social science studies of our time and has co-authored In the Course of a Lifetime that describes the study’s findings.

One of the key points he’s discovered is that generativity leads to a beautiful, long and healthy life.

People who are generous, he says, are empathic and warm; they relate to the suffering of others, want to help, and believe they can make a difference.   They reach out with acts of kindness and support.  And their giving provides them, in return, with a long-lasting protective effect on both their mental and physical health.

Giving is a Sign of Self-Worth

Both the Foster and Hicks study and the findings of Paul Wink describe giving people as people who have a strong sense of self-worth and personal value that they want others to share in as well.

Wink sees generativity as a spiritual trait, reflecting “a strong, self-expansive focus on making creative contributions that will affect others and endure beyond their lifetimes.”   Spiritually motivated people want to have a positive impact on others and to pass on their skills and knowledge.

Small Acts, Big Rewards:  Keeping a Kindness Log

You can prove to yourself how rewarding giving is by keeping a kindness log.

Positive psychology expert Dr. Barbara Fredrickson found that people who kept track of the way they expressed their generosity in acts of kindness saw their positivity rise considerably.

They noted every little thing they did that was an act of giving themselves to others.  Keeping track made them more aware of opportunities to make a difference in others’ lives, and the resulting good feelings from giving their personal energy, time and helpfulness motivated them to be more generous still.

If you want to give your own happiness level an extraordinary boost, be mindful of ways that you can give to others.   Keep a written log for a day or two.  See what happens.

Then come back here and share your experiences, would you?  Encouraging others with your comments is, after all, yet another way to give.

Share

The Healing Power of Forgiveness – A Gentle Guide

When was the last time you leaped out of bed and said, "Man! What a great day to forgive Hank!"? Probably like, oh, never. But did you know that forgiveness is one of the post powerful means available for freeing all kinds of juicy, creative energy that you have trapped inside you?

Smiling Woman Waking UpWhen was the last time you leaped out of bed and said, “Man! What a great day to forgive Hank!”?  Probably like, oh, never.   But did you know that forgiveness is one of the post powerful means available for freeing all kinds of juicy, creative energy that you have trapped inside you?

Try this experiment:  Think about someone you need to forgive.  Go ahead.  Just think of them.

Got someone?  Maybe a few someones?  Well, the fact that anyone at all came to mind means you have some forgiving to do.  And until you do, you’re keeping a lot of perfectly great energy locked away where it’s not having any fun at all.  I say we do a jailbreak; let it loose.  You with me?

Here’s the deal.  Most of us avoid even thinking about forgiveness as if it were some horrendously painful process like, say, getting a root canal without anesthetic.  In fact, avoidance is one of the two parts of forgiving that we have to overcome before we can unlock its fabulous healing powers.

The other part is–get this—“a resistance to benevolence.”  Believe it or not, we actually dig in our heels and fight against opening our hearts to anyone who caused us pain–even when that anyone is us.

For the most part, we avoid forgiving because we don’t really understand what it means. We carry around a lot of false notions about it.  And like all the untruths we tell ourselves, they really get in our way.  They keep us small and locked in.

Myths of Forgiveness: Why We Resist

He Doesn’t Deserve It

One of the biggest mistakes we make when we think about forgiving someone is that believing that it’s something we’re doing for them, the ones who hurt us or made us mad.  Why should we do anything nice for that rotten piece of . . . Well, you get the idea.   But the truth is that forgiving is a gift we give ourselves–a gift of wondrous beauty, and freedom, and release.

I Won’t Feel Safe

Unforgiving Young WomanAnother false notion we have about forgiving is that we’re protecting ourselves from future wrongs and pains by holding on to what happened in the past.  It’s almost like a superstition; we hold on to the pain from the past as if it would prevent the same things from happening again. But the irony is that by holding onto our bitterness and anger, our fear and blame, we generate the very quality of energy that will bring us the same kind of problems until we “get” how to rise above them.  It’s like using the Law of Attraction to magnetize more difficulties toward ourselves.

Instead of shielding us from hurt, by maintaining that inner barrier against the one who did us wrong we’re really allowing the hurt to take up precious space in our consciousness. The energy we could be using to revel in life, to create joyous, satisfying experiences for ourselves is locked up maintaining our illusory defenses.    Think about it for a minute.  Who is all your anger hurting?  Hmmmmm?

It’s My Revenge

Okay, we don’t want to let the bad guys off the hook.  If we forgive them, we think, they’ll go scot-free. But in reality, what we think and how we feel about them is stuff that only lives inside us.  We’re the ones who suffer the pain, the hurt, the resentment, the anger–over and over, until we release it, until we let it go.   While we think, on some level, that we’re getting revenge (“I’ll fix him!  I won’t ever let go of how he hurt me!”).  But in fact all we’re doing is keeping our own hurt alive.

Whether it’s someone else who did us wrong, or some part of ourselves who betrayed us, nursing our resentment only ties us to the pain. As long as we make that person or that part of ourselves into a monster, it’s always there to poke at our fear and our pain. The monster is always there, forever feeding on our energy, keeping us from the peace and clarity and wholeness we desire and deserve.

Forget About Making Up

Another reason we resist forgiving is that we think we will have to befriend whomever hurt us, to smooth things over and pretend everything is okay between us.   But–and pay attention; this is important–forgiveness and reconciliation aren’t the same things.

You can forgive someone and never have to tell her or ever have to see her again. That’s because forgiveness–just like its absence–is something that you do within your own heart and mind.  And it can stay there, remaining as private as you want it to be.

Sure, forgiveness opens the door for the possibility of reconciliation.  You could decide to renew the relationship that was damaged by the hurt.  In many cases–when the person who hurt you is someone you really love, or when the injurious act was something you did to yourself–restoring the free flow of communication and enjoyment is a spontaneous and welcome result.  But sometimes you can simply let go of the pain, of clinging to it, and never plan to be in relationship with the person who evoked it again.  And that’s perfectly okay.  Forgiveness doesn’t always have to mean reconciliation.

We can forgive without any expectation of a response from the person who hurt us, or of our responding to her. Sometimes, interestingly, when we forgive people they surprise us with a pleasant response even when we keep our forgiveness completely inside ourselves.   Because we’re all connected on the quantum level, sometimes our forgiveness flows into the lives of people we forgive and touches them with a new warmth. They might approach us with an offer to start over again.  But their response is wholly irrelevant to the act of forgiveness itself.  Forgiveness is something we do to heal our own hearts and minds.

What Forgiveness Isn’t

No KneelingCondoning and Forgetting

Forgiveness doesn’t mean saying bad behavior is okay or that you will permit it. In fact, it’s just the opposite.  Forgiving empowers you to embrace the kind of self-respect that doesn’t tolerate abuse.

Contrary to the familiar phrase, forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, either. It doesn’t delete your memory of what happened.   It just gives you a different, softer way to look at it. You bring healing to your wounds by smoothing them with love and compassion – for yourself.

You still see the scar when you look at that part of your life.  But now it a symbol of your release from its pain, of your ability to have grown past it. Now you look toward your future with freshness and clarity instead of with apprehension and fear.

Forgiveness doesn’t change what happened.  It changes your view of what happened.  It changes you.  It frees you.

No Kneeling SignAccepting Blame

They say that when you point your finger at someone, your three remaining fingers are pointing back at you.  Sometimes we resist forgiving someone because we’re afraid we’ll have to admit that we have been capable of hatred.

The only was to overcome this fear is to be willing you recognize that all of us have the capacity for every human emotion–even the worst ones. Accepting that, you begin to see that the person who hurt you has that same capacity, too.  When he hurt you, some of the worst simply got the best of him.

No Kneeling SignFacing the Pain and Understanding Motives

“But won’t I have to face the pain if I try to forgive it?” some part of you may say.  “I don’t want to feel it all over again!” That’s why it takes courage to forgive.  Instead of automatically putting up defenses of anger and resentment, we need to acknowledge that we were genuinely injured.  But the part of us that keeps the pain alive, the part of us that is truly cowardly, is the part that wraps the memory in resistance and refuses to let it go.

Sometimes people think that forgiving means you need to get inside the offender’s mind and understand his or her motives.  The fact is you don’t need to know the whys beneath the act or acts that hurt you. All you really need to do is accept that what happened, happened.  What was, was.

A Better Past

In the final analysis, forgiveness is giving up the possibility of a better past. Some part of us believes that if we think about our old hurts long enough, maybe the past will somehow magically change.

Forgiveness is letting go of that belief. What happened did happen, and no about of remembering it or fearing it will change it.   But we can learn to look at it differently.  We can accept it.

We can begin to realize that our lives didn’t stop at the point of pain. We kept on having new experiences.  Our lives went on.  We continued to grow in other dimensions of our lives. And now, as we choose to let the pain go, we free ourselves to continue growing even further, expanding with more clarity and more openness than ever before.

How Forgiving Works

Forgiving is pressing the stop button on the old memory tape from the past.  The endless loop of outrage, offense, bitterness and sorrow that’s played over and over in your mind finally ceases to run.

Instead, you make the choice to put the tape on a back shelf to gather dust. Your interest in it simply fades away. It’s like waking up from a trance and rediscovering the present moment, the moment where your genuine power resides.

Ways to Heal

  • Start with the small stuff.  Make an intention to notice when you react to someone’s behavior with resentment or blame, and practice forgiving right then and there.  First, forgive yourself for your automatic response of taking offense.  Just because someone is being offensive doesn’t mean you have to feel offended.  That’s giving your power away.

Instead, remember that you can choose how to respond.  You can offer an apology, or say that you’re sorry they feel that way, or see if a misunderstanding has happened and straighten things out.  You can graciously recognize that they must be in pain themselves to be acting in such a rude manner and see if you can comfort or assist them in some way.  Offenses aren’t about you; they’re about the offender.

  • Practice forgiving yourself when you catch yourself acting in ways that fall short of your standards.  Apologize to yourself and allow yourself to feel compassion for the part of you that misbehaved or harbored an unworthy thought.  Try to discover what it is you need that generated your inappropriate thought or action.  Are you tired?  Hungry?  In need of a change of scenery or some exercise?
  • Thoughtful WomanWhen you’re dealing with a big or long-standing hurt, one of the most healing methods for overcoming your resistance to forgiveness is to write down all the positive things that happened as a result of the hurtful experience. Ask yourself what you learned from it. Make a list of the strengths you developed because it happened.  Are you more self-caring in other aspects of your life? In what ways are you more compassionate toward others who endured a similar hurt?   What new choices have you made because of what you learned?

People who write about the hidden benefits of the events that hurt them, studies show, develop new resilience and begin to look toward the future with renewed optimism and hope.

  • Pray for forgiveness, and for a forgiving heart.
  • Learn meridian tapping and use it in untangling your feelings about your hurt.  You can download a free manual on how to do it here.
  • Adopt the practice of ho’oponopono.  Learn to chant the phrases “I’m sorry; please forgive me; thank you; I love you” throughout your day.
  • Write out a personal declaration of forgiveness and memorize it, or carry it with you on a little card that you can read whenever you need to reinforce your decision to forgive and to wish that the person who hurt you might live a better life. State your willingness to recall the good that came from the situation and to freely let go of it, to see it as a finished, past event.
  • Create some positive affirmations that you can repeat to yourself when your ‘hurt-tape’ starts running.  “Even though I was really frightened at the time, even though I was hurt and felt totally powerless, I am choosing to recognize the strength I have now.”

Woman Feeling ReleaseResistance to forgiving can be really strong.  But every gentle step we make to overcome us serves us well.  The more we move in its direction, the more we experience forgiveness as one of the kindest, most life-enhancing choices we can make.

As we let go, more and more, of our clinging to past wounds, we feel the upsurge of new harmony within ourselves and in relation to the whole world.  We taste the freedom to begin focusing on the abundant richness and possibilities the present holds.

Choose forgiveness.  Choose to claim the experience of its power and healing in your life, starting today.

Your Turn

What experiences have you had with forgiveness?  How did you learn to apply it in your life?  How did it do for you?  I’d love to hear about your experiences with it—or about the stumbling blocks that are keeping you from forgiving.  Let me know.

Share