Going Deep – Embracing Tolerance and Forgiveness

By Ken Wells - 02/18/2021


Series Two: Blog One

“Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, if feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness” — Marianne Williamson

During these times in our country, tolerance is becoming a rare commodity in the communities that we live. You are either Red or you are Blue. If you want to be humanitarian, you may well be labeled Socialist. If you don’t like government intervention you may be categorized as Alt Right. We can be isolated as pro-life or pro-choice. Polarization is pandemic in America. It pulls us apart and unties the common threads that weave the fabric of community connection.

Religious institutions fail without the instruction and promotion of tolerance toward others. The Dalai Lama said, “On some days I think it would be better if there were no religions. All religions and all scriptures harbor potential for violence. This is why we need secular ethics beyond all religions. It is more important for schools to have classes on ethics other than religion. Why? Because it’s more important to be aware of our commonalities than to constantly emphasize what divides us” We all love people who love us. If we can’t love others who love us, we have a psychological problem, not a religious or spiritual problem. It is difficult to love and become tolerant toward those who hate you or who might be considered an enemy. Again the Dalai remarked “We have the most to learn from our enemies. In a way they are our best teachers”.

The political, racial and economic divide that fractures our country will only heal through tolerance and forgiveness. The concept of politicians “reaching across the aisle” won’t occur with just coy and savvy communication skills. There will need to be a genuine heart connection of shared commonality. Setting aside the financial pressure of those who support and fund us for the preferred good of our country will only transpire when both sides of the aisle accept differences and disagreement from the other. Tolerance is about identification and genuine care. Addicts self-destruct when they refuse or fail to learn how to genuinely care and love themselves in a broken condition. It is the acceptance of self, not the broken behavior, that creates the condition to resurrect recovery. Acceptance of others’ different economic philosophy, populist position and different understandings in political persuasion will require learning to love those whose ideology is divergent and conflictual. Tolerance does not allow for objectifying others by treating them as a utility with the focus of getting them to line up to my point of view. Nor does tolerance view others as obstacles that need to be manipulated and managed so that I can get what I want. Tolerance inspires valuing and treasuring people for who they are—an unrepeatable miracle of the universe. Tolerance does not promote homogenization of ideas. It does celebrate diversification of philosophy, approach and different views. Tolerance is about treating others with dignity and respect, even when the other side does not. Martin Luther King once said “darkness cannot drive out darkness—only light can do that; hate cannot drive out hate—only love can do that. We have all come on different ships but we are all on the same boat now”

Connecting through weakness brings people together and is often where we find our bond and common beginnings. In their book Spirituality of Imperfection, authors Kurtz and Ketcham wrote “There is no community without that which is flawed and imperfect. When weakness is not shared, then strength becomes a threat”. The magic in a recovery community is when position and power are set aside to connect with common shared brokenness. Hate separates and fragments community when it is mismanaged. It makes sense for an addict to hate the results of destructive behavior. Yet, addicts will continue to wallow in the mud of addiction if they remain stuck in self-hatred. Only when the addict moves the energy of hate to what they love–dignity and self-respect–will they establish sobriety. Tolerance promotes serenity, not only in the addiction community but in every community in our society.

Tolerance is a litmus test for mature recovery. It does not exist just because I have been sober from addictive behavior for many years. It is cultivated by leaning into what I fear and what is uncomfortable. It is not about being wishy-washy or waffling on principles. It is about acceptance and reducing ego that demands that I be right and others be wrong. It is about standing for what you believe while preserving dignity and respect for self and others when you and they are incongruent, hypocritical and inconsistent. It is about being committed to sitting in the circle of vulnerability, knowing the intensity of shared emotional pain and the humility of what I think I know may not be true. Tolerance promotes respect around differences while fostering connection through likeness and common shared struggles.

It all begins with vision. John Lennon imagined a world with no countries, nothing to kill or die for, no religion, no heaven, no hell, a world that lives as one. He was well aware that he was often labeled a dreamer. He was confident that he was not the only one to embrace this vision for tolerance. Indeed, he was not.

Questions to ponder:

  • What would it be like in our country, if each of us took the personal responsibility to make sure that one child who is hungry, or needs clothing or education were fed, clothed and educated?
  • What would it be like for you to reach out to someone you disagreed with about whatever and just listened to that friend, family member or foe and thanked them for the share?
  • What if you were hungry for food, encouragement, acceptance and approval for who you are — and I simply offered you my food, encouragement and acceptance of you?

These are questions that motivate and inspire a vision for tolerance, whether a church, a 12-step group, or a village. Tolerance would engage the question in the midst of difference, “what kind of community do we want to create, live and be a part of?” Tolerance does not shrink back from domination. It is less focused and concerned about what is in it for me and more considerate of the good of others. It intensifies love and diminishes hate. The way to harness this energy in the presence of hate is through the consummate vision of the one who loves. This is the essence of tolerance. May God help us extend this vision throughout every community in our country.

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