HeartSphere Counseling, LLC Michele M. Preste, LMHC
As I considered what tolerance meant, I delved into the origins of the word. In America, back in the 1760’s, tolerance was described as “tending to be free from bigotry or severity in judging others.” The current Merriam-Webster definition describes tolerance as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.” Both definition contain some keys words that are significant to the application of tolerance in today’s society.
It is difficult to read today’s headlines without reading about clashes between individuals or groups that have differing beliefs. It is also difficult to ignore the frequent reports of prejudice and disparaging judgments being voiced because someone else represents something the other does not understand.
How did we get here? There are any number of studies and writings that address this issue from an academic, sociological, economical viewpoints, as well as many contributions authored by “the person on the street.” My intent is not to regurgitate what others have said but to present my thoughts about what may be contributing to the seeming rise in intolerance in our society and, for that matter, throughout the world.
I have often wondered what has happened to the fine art of listening. Not just any listening but the art of listening for understanding. Not just the “yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it” but rather “oh, now I see . . . now I understand what you are saying.” That last statement can be very scary as, for some, “yes, I understand” has come to be synonymous with “yes, I agree with you.” “Yes, I understand” does not mean “I agree with you.” It only means that the issue at hand has been explained well enough that the other part now understands the basis for the other’s opinion.
This is a marked difference. When someone understands another’s viewpoint, there is opportunity for additional discourse. The communication lines can remain open longer as the parties involved have respected each other and cared enough to focus on what was being communicated rather than blindly staking out a stance with no consideration of additional information. I call this “LISTENING WITH THE EAR OF THE HEART.”
The opposite of listening for understanding is “listening for rebuttal.” This occurs when the listener is already devising a response to what is being said before the speaker has completely finished talking. Few of the words spoken after the rebuttal has started being formulated in someone’s head are heard in full context. Misunderstandings can occur and the parties involved are not committed to validating what they have heard. In addition, listening for rebuttal does not allow space for understanding as the primary focus is on getting the listener to come over to the speaker’s way of thinking. There is little to no curiosity or opportunity to consider the issue from another perspective.
It is harder to jump to conclusions when you are listening for understanding as your response is not formulated until the other person has stopped talking. This mode of listening slows the communication process down to allow for validation for what was heard, as well as to allow for clarification if a misunderstanding occurs. Slowing the communication process down like this speaks to curiosity, respect, and care.
Listening with the ear of the heart takes patience and time. But, aren’t our relationships worth this type of respect?
Tolerance requires the type of open discourse that listening for understanding supports. Perhaps we should each, individually, commit to the practice of listening for understanding in our relationships. If enough of us develop and practice listening with the ear of the heart as a matter of course, a more tolerant society may follow. Our hearts, collectively, are worth the effort.
Thanks for sharing your time with me. Until next time . . .
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