How To Be More Tolerant Of Others: 5 No Nonsense Tips!

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Are you tolerant of others?

Probably not as much as you’d like to be since you’re reading this article.

And that’s okay, there’s no judgment here.

Life is difficult, but some people make it more difficult by being intolerant of others. Many look at what’s different, feel uncomfortable, and then respond to that discomfort with anger and fear. And to live in discomfort, anger, and fear is no fun at all.

Even worse, some people make their living from leveraging discomfort, anger, and fear. They have no vested interest in helping you to create happiness or peace in your life because then you’re no longer useful.

And why would they? Intolerance, fear, and anger are not only easy, but they provide so much benefit to people that aren’t you or the target of your ire. Why? Because anger is easy engagement.

But what does “anger is easy engagement” mean? It means that people who feel strongly are more likely to act on their emotions.

Just take a look at the world around you. What do you see?

Extremes everywhere. This other political party is out to get you! Those migrants are coming to take your jobs! The poor are lazy leeches taking up taxpayer dollars!

(And, to be clear, we’re not trying to suggest that having either conservative or liberal political leanings make for a more or less tolerant person. Nor does race, religion, or economic status have anything to do with it.)

Anything that is different from you can and will be leveraged to stoke fear and anger to use against you because it makes you more likely to take an action that benefits the purveyor of that message.

Pushing those buttons causes people to turn out to rallies, donate to causes, and volunteer their valuable time and energy toward those ends.

And everyone with an agenda who is serious about success does it because it works. It’s so much easier to create fear and anger than happiness. And happiness isn’t much of a motivator anyway. Happy people don’t spend their time immersed in the rhetoric of fear and anger because hey…it’s a buzzkill.

Intolerance, fear, and anger only harm you and benefit the people that work against you. The key to finding your way through intolerance is to understand that differences are not only okay, but they strengthen us all.

Acceptance vs. Tolerance

Acceptance and tolerance are two different things. These two words are often used interchangeably, but for someone who is trying to be more tolerant, there’s an important distinction to make.

To accept is to be supportive and okay with the thing that you’re accepting. You may understand, like, and embrace it.

To tolerate is to say, “Okay, I don’t understand this, and it isn’t for me, but it is for you and that’s okay.”

Let’s use a common example. There are plenty of straight people that accept people of other sexual identities. They aren’t angry at them, don’t fear them, and are supportive of them. On the other hand, you also have plenty of straight people who don’t understand or fear people of other sexual identities. That fear is something that is weaponized to create anger against grown, consenting adults who aren’t harming anyone and just trying to live their lives.

The third option is tolerance.

A straight person may not understand people with other sexual identities and find it’s not for them, but still not wish those people harm. It doesn’t have to be liked or accepted. It’s a matter of saying, “Okay, this isn’t for me. You do your thing; I’m going to do my thing. Let’s all live our lives so long as we’re not hurting anyone.”

Tolerating Intolerance

The paradox of tolerance states that a society tolerant without limit will eventually be seized or destroyed by the intolerance. Thus, according to philosopher Karl Popper, a tolerant society must continue to tolerate intolerance.

That’s a lot of uses of the word tolerance, so let’s break it down a bit with a real-life example.

In the US, Neo-Nazis are allowed to spread their message because they are protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of no stifled free speech by the government. But Neo-Nazis and their ideology are clearly intolerable people. Their platform is purity, hatred, and genocide no matter what khakis and tiki torches they want to try to hide behind. Being a vocal minority, Neo-Nazis and their closeted supporters often pull the victim card that they deserve tolerance.

They don’t. Their intolerance cannot be tolerated. If it is, a lot of people will suffer and die should they capture meaningful power. They will argue that they deserve to be tolerated because “everyone has a right to their opinion.” But if your opinion requires subjugation and destruction of people, then no, it must not be tolerated, and you have no right to that opinion.

That’s an extreme example, but it’s necessary to understand that tolerance is nuanced.

How To Build Tolerance Of Others

There’s a pretty good chance that you’re not here because you believe in racial purity and genocide.

You’re here because some people make you uncomfortable or fearful and you want to move past that.

Good for you for recognizing that as a problem and wanting to grow as a person!

Let’s look at some ways you can better grow and change into a more tolerant person.

1. Ignore extremes and what you see in the media.

The media is generally a bad representation of what is actually going on. The news, by virtue of just being the news, is only reporting on the most extreme events because none of the mundane stuff is newsworthy. Cynicism about driving engagement aside, nobody is tuning into the news to find out average Joe Schmoe went to work again today, had lunch, came home, and everything was fine.

No, the media is typically looking for the most extreme outliers to present because that’s newsworthy and it’s what people want to know about. It’s why people tune into the news. However, news provides a slanted point-of-view as well, sometimes without necessarily realizing it.

Back when Hurricane Katrina happened, there was a lot of talk about media representation of the survivors left behind centered around race. That conversation was based around the fact that black people were regularly referred to as “looters” while white people were regularly referred to as “finding or scavenging for supplies.” (Source) It’s a negative bias and intolerance that the media contributed to and, of course, avoided any responsibility for.

Similarly, you’re going to see far more stories about the crappy, negative things that people do because that’s what people want to hear about.

You shouldn’t formulate your opinions from the extremes and it’s a terrible idea to just accept what you’re shown at face value without question. If you’re seeing it in the media, it’s probably not an accurate representation of the entire truth.

2. Adopt a live and let live attitude.

What does it mean to live and let live? Well, it’s understanding that you don’t have to influence or be involved in the business of anyone else. You can look at a person or situation, determine that it’s not for you, and then just get on with your day. You live your life and you let them live their life.

However, that doesn’t mean tolerating bad or harmful behavior. Remember what we said about not tolerating intolerance.

But you do need to sometimes go deeper to understand what is harmful, what is harmless, and what is propaganda meant to convince you that something harmless is harmful, or vice versa.

Consider the following example. There are some very vocal people that want to try to lump pedophiles in with the LGBT+ group. Those people consist of two groups: people who hate queer people and pedophiles trying to normalize their behavior.

A straight person who has little to no experience with queer people could possibly get swept up in this rhetoric. You may be thinking, where could these sheltered people possibly exist? And the answer is communities without much diversity, or those with few openly queer people because they fear for their lives.

However, should you dig deeper past the rhetoric and actually talk to some queer people, they’re just as disgusted by the idea as any straight person would be. And rightfully so. There’s a world of difference between two consenting adults wanting to do what is right for their lives and an adult victimizing a child.

The argument that these intolerant people often put forward is, “Well, a man who is attracted to another full-grown man must be attracted to little boys, too.” Really? Because no sane person ever says, “Well, a man who is attracted to a full-grown woman must be attracted to little girls, too.”

And then you have to wonder if the kind of people who do say that sort of thing are just projecting.

3. Spend more time around the focus of your intolerance.

An easy way to help build and practice your tolerance and better understand people is to spend more time around those people. Of course, that’s easier said than done. It’s not like you can just punch into Google “where can I find X type of people to hang out with.” But do try and have a look around to see if there are any obvious ways that you can go about doing that.

Maybe you can befriend someone at work, attend some social events and try to meet more people, or do some volunteer work with an organization that supports that group.

You may also try joining online communities. So long as you’re not disruptive, most communities will be welcoming of people that want to learn more. Just be sure to adhere to their guidelines and respect their mission. Support communities often don’t appreciate outsiders coming in because they want it to be a safe place for vulnerable members of their community.

There is also a world of information out there at your fingertips. You may searching for influencers, youtubers, or other personalities that help with educational efforts. Books, audiobooks, videos, and podcasts may also be a good option for you. The more you learn about something, the more receptive you will be toward it.

4. Listen more instead of trying to figure things out.

Listening is a powerful tool for understanding. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t understand how to listen constructively to meet that goal. The problem is that many people are still trying to understand what they’re hearing, instead of just hearing what’s being said.

Someone is talking, you’re listening, and you’re trying to understand what they’re saying. As you make an active effort to try to understand, you may find that you’re trying to interpret their words, life, and experiences through your own perceptions.

So, let’s say you have a person of color talking about the racism they’ve experienced to a white person who’s never experienced it or treated anyone that way at all. It would be easy for the white person to listen to that person’s experiences and conclude that no, racism doesn’t exist because they’ve never experienced it, seen it, or been a part of it. They may also not understand the subtle undertones of racism either, making it even harder for them to see.

In that example, the white person isn’t hearing what the person of color is actually saying. They are listening, but they are imposing their own world view on the person of color’s experiences.

You must try to avoid this if you want to facilitate better understanding of other people. Don’t try to pick apart what other people are saying about their experiences. Don’t try to prove it or disprove it in your mind. Just listen and keep yourself from rendering judgment on their words.

That doesn’t mean you need to just blindly trust everyone or anything; especially if they’re asking for money or for you to sign something. In a no stakes scenario, all you need to do is listen and let that person pull you into their world for a little while.

5. Accept the discomfort of personal growth.

Personal growth generally doesn’t feel good. Not too many people are going to realize that they don’t like certain parts of themselves and think, “You know what? That’s great!” No. Instead, you may feel awkward, self-conscious, sad, or even mad at yourself for not understanding how you thought you would.

It’s okay to feel that way. Don’t avoid it. Just embrace it and keep going through it. By going through it you will reach the goal that you want to reach. You’ll be better able to connect with other people, develop that understanding you want to have, and increase your tolerance.

Do not try to avoid it. If you avoid it, you’ll avoid the process of taking an honest look at yourself and the situation so you can actually engage in that personal growth.

The good news is that with work and a willingness to fade down those negative feelings, you can become more tolerant of other people and develop stronger empathy. Becoming more permissive and open-minded is not an overnight process though, so do have patience as you work through it.

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About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.