You may have clicked on this because you are wondering about all this “tolerance” talk. Perhaps your millenial niece did not come to the family reunion, because she doesn’t like your talk about “those people.” (You know, people who are different from you.) Maybe you’ve been called a racist, or a bigot. Whatever the case may be, you are welcome here, and please know I have attempted to be quite serious, and yet infuse some humor, because this is the stuff that can break friendships and families.
This post is not for people who want to remain intolerant, though it may help to know that if you are choosing to be intolerant, it is becoming more socially acceptable for people to call you out on it. So, maybe just read on, and see where it gets you, and maybe that family reunion won’t be so hard each year.
Also, this short course is not for people who are shy, introverted, or antisocial. There is room for us all. You don’t have to be friendly, or even polite. I know you strive for peaceful coexistence. **But if you are hanging the confederate flag/fuck the police/or other hater signs all over, or spend all your time being mean to people online, you are not peacefully coexisting. This post is not for you, either, though you are welcome to it. I digress.
Let’s get started.
One baby step; one exercise.
One goal: Challenge intolerance.
Two steps: Notice it rise up in your body and mind. Change your response.
First, let’s talk about safety; if something doesn’t feel right, abort the exercise. But please, don’t say something aloud that sounds like, “OMG do you see that (homeless guy/mentally ill lady/let your mind wander from here) up there, creeeee—py!” That is bullshit, and a distraction. That is your imprinting, getting in the way of listening to your fear. That is your imprinting hijacking your fear, and getting in the way of your growth.
Instead, learn to honor when something doesn’t feel right, and make the best decision you can, in order to be safe. Pick a different path, and look for the right time to practice being more tolerant of people whom you are afraid of, and/or who are not like you.
1) When out and about, a gentle way to start is to practice saying, “Hi,” or even just nodding, to people you pass. All the people you pass. Especially anyone you may carry a bias, or biases, against.
2) Make brief eye contact, but not creepy or condescending eye contact. Objectifying people never helps, and pity is an insult. Staring is usually a trigger.
3) If someone ignores your efforts, do not take it personally. This is acceptable. (See introverted, shy, or antisocial.) It’s ok. It’s not about that; remember, it’s about challenging your imprinting, your intolerance, your emotions, and your reactivity.
4) If someone reacts to your eye contact, and does something unkind, do not take it personally. Do not engage. Do not laugh, gesture, or try to one-up the person. Keep moving. It is not about you. (I’m so used to this now, that I don’t even register it. Normal.) Notice only your own reaction; this is the tension you want to break down, in yourself. Stay focused. Keep the issue small. Take a breath.
5) Next, do not go home and facebook, text, call, or converse with your “safe people pod,” or your pet, in a way that reinforces intolerance of “the other.” You know what I’m talking about; in other words, don’t be a gossipy hater, who perpetuates stereotypes. Stereotypes don’t help, and are an example of lazy thinking. If you feel unsure about the interaction, or more fearful/reluctant/hesitant/angry/confused/emotional, or catch yourself falling into the intolerance pattern you’re used to, and you don’t want to, calling a close friend or advisor, to talk about what happened, without the added drama, is healthy. *You are always welcome to remain intolerant, though. This exercise is not forced.
6) If your practice goes wrong, and someone tries to intrude into your boundaries; keep moving. This only means that the person doesn’t have the privilege of knowing good boundaries, him or herself. This can be for a number of reasons. Don’t worry about that. It’s not about teaching others boundaries. It’s not about rescuing. It’s about working on your own boundaries, and rescuing yourself from your intolerance. Stay focused. You can say, “No thank you,” or “Goodbye, take care!” You can be silent, and wave. You can smile, or nod again. Or don’t. Keep moving. Take a breathe, and internally wish the person, or persons, only wellness and health. Be firm, and stay connected to your heart; notice your emotions. Return to #5.
7) If someone follows you, or doesn’t respect your boundary, it is ok to say something like, “Please, stop,” or “Stop,” or “Get the fuck back, asshole,” depending on the level of intrusion you perceive. (Asshole is gender neutral.) It is ok to get help. It is ok to prepare to defend yourself or run. Refer back to #5.
8) If the person backs up–let it go, keep moving, return to #6, if that feels safe, or send information to law enforcement, if it feels like there is a safety risk for the community. Refer back to #5.
That’s it. If we remember that intolerance is about protecting ourselves from perceived intrusions, perceived threats, and perceived losses, we have so much more power over it. Don’t let imprinted fear drive your life smaller.
Now, for just a moment, take the bias off. Remove the “other” from your mind, and follow me through an easier template for emotional reactivity and the power it can hold over us. It’s about reclaiming your bravery, strength, and power, really.
I was kicked in the face by a red female horse. She broke my jaw, and I am lucky to be alive. I decided I was not going to be afraid of horses, because I’ve had hundreds of encounters with horses, where I did not incur a $27,000 hospital bill.
I do not treat red horses differently than other horses. I do not treat female horses any differently than male horses. (Horse people, zip it, this is not the time for mare jokes).
I could be afraid of horses, red horses, female horses, or young horses. I could be afraid of inexperienced horses, horses that my horse trainer hates, or edgy horses. I can go on and on about everything I hate, about any of those kind of horses, that may have led to the accident. I can blame horses, and especially those kind of horses. People would join me, in castigating those various types of horses, gladly. There are names and constructs–insults for those types of horses.
Or, I could go on and on and on about everything I did wrong, that put the horse in a bad position, to kick me. I could blame her previous owners. I could blame her DNA, her lineage. I could blame her early trainers, and those who handled her. I could carry hatred, guilt, sadness, fear, and shame, about how I failed her, and we all failed her. I could start a horse rescue, for all those types of horses. I could listen to people tell me all day long, what I did wrong, and remain frozen in shame, guilt, and sadness. People would join me, in castigating myself, gladly. There are names and constructs; insults for that type of owner.
I could swing wildly between the two, carrying only one truth at a time–the first, or the second. I could make myself sick refusing to fight for the grey, or I could make myself tired–fighting for the grey. I could let either side’s castigators have too much power over me, and that could show up as paralysis, withdrawal, appropriation, or defendedness. I could smear the issue with my own issues, and take other people’s issues and drama on as my own.
Or, I can take a breath, acknowledge that it happened, because facts matter, and history matters. I can notice my emotions when I’m around horses, and pay greater attention to safety, not fear, and flick off everyone else’s bullshit, ill-fitting, too rigid constructs–even mine. I can stop reading online about how my type of owner is a good/bad owner, and those types of horses are good/bad horses. I can choose to continue interacting with horses, and to try again, or not. I get to choose how I live my life, and how I love animals and/or people, or how I do not, and you do, too.