March 31, 2013

Lessons From Intolerance: My Journey Toward Compassion. ~ Lesley Lawrence

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Tolerance is the key to world peace.”

That’s the message that we see streaming through our televisions, our schools, our social media. We even teach it to our kids.

The problem with this blanketed Brady Bunch theory is that tolerance sort of says, “I see you have something wrong with you, but I’m willing to overlook it… because I’m pretty great like that.” And that feels kind of slimy to me.

Tolerance seems like intolerance wrapped in a pretty bow and given grudgingly with a fake smile. It doesn’t deal with the mental darts of resentment we continue to toss at the person. Wouldn’t we be better off transcending tolerance since it ultimately keeps us bigoted? Wouldn’t the act of challenging our very thoughts and then taking steps to understand and ultimately let go of our criticisms, lead us to accepting all people as they are? Including those we vehemently disagree with?

Instead of asking myself “am I being tolerant?” shouldn’t I be asking, “am I kind, not just in how I behave in front of others, but are my inner-most thoughts kind?”

Can I see a different train of thought that might let me grow more skilled at understanding myself and others?”

I’ve found that in my very recent past, I was really tolerant in the face (well the Facebook updates) of a person I deemed to be opinionated, sexist, and arrogant. I felt quite comfortable in thinking that this person was wrong and misguided because he was… well, I thought he was ignorant. Therefore he didn’t really know better.

In thinking this way, I was behaving tolerantly. I had no measure of acceptance, kindness or compassion, though. Just a lot of outright judgment that this person should be tolerated for a period of time until I deemed him unfit for tolerance as my patience wore thin. Do you catch the irony here… I was intolerant of this person I deemed to be intolerant himself.

That makes me the very thing I dislike, doesn’t it?

After recognizing this, I wondered if this might be the case for most people. With the onset of social media and the sharing of information and opinions, we have a platform from which to effect great change. Via a virtual soapbox, if you will. We hear the loving words and radical rantings from friends and strangers alike. We find ourselves alligning with certain opinions that support our own ideals. We vehemently argue or silently shoot down those who don’t agree with our understanding of the truth. I’ve joined people in demanding change right along with them. I’ve wanted to yank others off their soapbox because in my mind, clearly, they just don’t get it.

Upon reflection, I find myself to have been gravely misguided and un-compassionate.

I have been guilty of crafting Oscar-winning speeches in my mind. Listing irreverantly why so-and-so or such-and such don’t have a clue. My inner monologue screaming about the travesties and injustices in the world. I saw myself pointing the finger at the guilty parties until, like a cosmic hammer to the head, I realized… oh, I am the guilty party!

Because really, I was just mirroring the very behaviour I despised. I was unfriending them, quite literally from social media or just in my closed mind. I gathered ammo to prove just how wrong they were. What was at the centre of this strange behaviour of mine? Perhaps my own need to feel heard? To feel relevant, maybe? To say I mattered somehow?

I was looking for a witness of my time and importance here on the planet. I thought I would achieve this through my allegiance to a concept or ideal that mattered to me.

And then one day, this same arrogant guy posted on Facebook about how he had been “unfriended” by people for the opinions and things he posted on there. He was angry and asked, to no one in particular, why these people didn’t have the courage to message him to explain why. I thought this was a really important and brave question to ask. I had actually considered unfriending him myself prior to this, because I thought he just hadn’t evolved all that much. (Yep, there I was being all egotistical and intolerant. I cringe and am saddened to say that on a level I wasn’t completely aware of, I believed I was better than him. For that, I am truly sorry.)

The fact that he even posed the question, meant that he was hurt knowing that others would so easily write him off. It made me recognize there was something behind his words that wasn’t getting through to me. Something that was far more important than anything he had ever said. So reluctantly, I sent him a private message and explained why I thought about unfriending him in the past myself. Fearing he might annihilate me with his sharp tongue and strong opinions, I was surprised and relieved at how well he received my point of view.

He kindly explained a lot of things I hadn’t noticed about him before. I learned just how devoted he is to his family, friends, and community. I couldn’t see this before because I was seeing him through anger and criticism… I was just tolerating him. He was grateful and genuinely touched that I was willing to be honest with him. We recognized that even though we don’t think about the world in the exact same way, we come from the same place. From a place of wanting to be seen, heard and cared for for who we are, so we can care for others as they are.

That’s when we truly join in compassion and non-judgement. That’s when we create cohesion and balance in our lives. Without this conversation I would still be silently judging this guy in my mind. I would have still believed he was wrong about most things. Perhaps I would have unfriended him and never learned this lesson. I’d still be walking the planet with my pretend smile, thinking I was being an angel for putting up with the challenges others brought forth.

The philosopher George Santayana said, “intolerance is a form of egotism, and to condemn egotism intolerantly, is to share it.”

Hmm. Guess I’ve been sharing a bit too much.

This guy… who I consider a real friend now, still posts the same sort of things that he used to. But strangely, they don’t effect me the way they used to. I sort of even like his reliabilty to be who he is, even though I don’t always agree with him or like his posts. I see him now. And I see that he is a shining example of integrity. He speaks his truth even at the risk of others not accepting him. If they don’t, I’m sorry they won’t get to see such a brave and caring guy.

Quite simply, he taught me more about my inability to open my heart. I learned it quicker than anything a yoga class or a shrink has ever taught me. Now I view his and other people’s rantings with understanding. I still have my own soapbox, but more often than not I want to shout from it, “Hey buddy, I see you doing your best over there. Hope it’s working out for you.”

I’m able to see how my intolerance for others, for government, for corporations even, was not enlightenment on my part. It was my ignorance, my arrogance, my intolerance.

I was, in fact, contributing to the problems I was so eager to complain about.

I don’t have all the answers in order for us to have world peace. But I certainly notice when I don’t contribute to it now. I see how I play my part in moving towards compassion and love, or away from it.

If I want change to happen somewhere, may it start with my own thoughts. May I learn from my mistakes and judgements. May I see a new way to find peace that begins with my own peace of mind. May I see what lies beneath my anger, or their anger or corporate greed, or climate change. May I see the thread that connects. This thread that I was sawing away at because I could only see the outer illusion of separation. May I see you for who you are, a true reflection of love trying to make its way to the surface. May you see the same in me, even if we’re not walking the same path.

Like that cute kid from the TV show Touch said, “I am me. But I must push past my borders if I’m ever to know you.”


Lesley Lawrence is a yoga teacher from Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Writing doesn’t come naturally to Lesley, and she describes herself as a tortured writer with a deep need to figure life out. Writing and yoga are the two art forms that help her do just that. They challenge her to dive deeper into her frenetic mind in hopes of resurfacing a bit clearer, a bit calmer, and breathing a whole lot easier. You can follow Lesley on Facebook, Twitter or on her website.


Like elephant I’m not “spiritual”… I just practice being a good person on Facebook.

Assistant Ed. Caroline Scherer

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