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 . . .
Live an inspired life!
Last post I talked about community and how individuals are becoming more isolated in spite of being more connected through social media and our many electronic devices. Today, I want to share more about what is happening to us individually because of this trend.
Last year, I read Lost Connections by Johann Hari. I recently revisited the book as part of my exploration of the word “community.” Hari explores the social causes of depression. One of the causes he discusses is “disconnection from other people.” In other words, the loss of connection. Hari met with many researchers who have made a career of studying loneliness. Here is a bit of what he found along the way.
The trend toward isolation and loneliness actually began as far back as the 1930’s. However, the isolation and loneliness trend has accelerated in recent years. In the ten year period from 1985 through 1994, involvement in community organizations decreased by 45%. Many years ago, when a person was asked about how many meaningful friends they had, the average number was three. In 2004, when that same question was asked, the most prevalent answer to the question was zero. In other words, more people have no close friends. This trend also applies to our interactions with family members; e.g., we eat with family members less often and we don’t go on vacations with family members as often as we used to in years past. These are disturbing trends and we are seeing the significant negative effects in our society in the news every day.
We humans are curious creatures because of some of our hard-wired behaviors we inherited from our ancestors. Two behaviors, in particular, seem very contradictory. We are hard-wired to remember the negative first and we are hard-wired for connection; i.e., community. Remembering the negative helped us to survive the dangers of our primitive world; for example, where was the Saber-toothed tiger den or the quicksand or the neighboring tribe’s village. In other words, remembering where the dangers were was a lifesaving skill. However, living in a community also helped us to survive. We had others to help us gather food or nurture us back to health when we were injured or sick. Let’s face it, when things go bump in the night, you really appreciate being surrounded by a crowd of people who can help fend off the dangers of the night. But, we now have less of this type of community because we have learned, over the years, that it is best for us to take care of ourselves rather than to depend on others.
This is a curious thing as researchers have found the more isolated (not in community) an individual is the greater the chance of getting sick. To be exact, three times more likely to get sick. In addition, more isolated people are 2 to 3 times more likely to die than individuals connected to their community. Being isolated and lonely has also been found to contribute to higher levels of cortisol in a person’s body which impacts sleep patterns and increases levels of fear, anxiety, and depression. An individual’s world view actually begins to change as the individual becomes harder to be around because of their negatives thoughts and fears. Isolated individuals become more judgmental, less trusting, and experience less love in their life. In effect, individuals become less tolerant of others.
The antidote for this trend is not more interaction via social media. These avenues of interaction only serve to promote more “anonymous” interactions. The antidote that is actually needed is an increase of face-to-face interactions with others. Because we are, by nature and thousands of years of conditioning, social creatures. This means we need to use all of our five senses to interact with people in a meaningful way. We just can’t do that with a computer and a screen.
I happen to agreed that there is a time and place for social media and learning the skills of being an independent person. But, not to the exclusion of connection and community. With connection and community, our personal experience and society’s experience as a whole becomes healthier.
So pick up the phone and make a date with a friend to meet for coffee, join a book club, learn something new by attending a class and making a conscious effort to makes friends with your classmates, get to know a co-worker on a more personal level, participate in a community volunteer program, or take time to say more than just “hello” to your neighbor. You may just surprise yourself at how good you start to feel both physically and emotionally. You may also notice that you have developed a stronger sense of community and a broader worldview. T
Thanks for giving my thoughts some consideration. If you have a chance, check out Johann Hari’s book Lost Connecions. He has quite a bit more to say about disconnection (lose of community) and reconnecting (creating community).
Next time, I will be talking about the wise word “tolerance” which has a significant correlation to community. Until then . . .
Live an inspired life.
Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari, 2018. Bloomsbury Publishing.
Community – we hear that word mentioned often; yet, how many of us really think about that word when we hear or read it. Looking the word up on the internet leads to definitions like same, common, shared by all or many, a group of people living in the same place, having particular characteristics in common, or a feeling of fellowship due to shared beliefs, interests, or goals.
We can actually belong to multiple communities at the same time. Where you live may be a community. The circumstances of your life may define a community to which you belong. What you believe and do may also place you in other communities.
Communities provide us with an identity. We feel comfortable and safe when we are “in community” because we share something in common. We are known and understood. Community helps to ground us.
Becoming disconnected from community is destabilizing. We may experience isolation, doubt, loss of identity, and loneliness. In effect, we can lose ourselves and, when that happens, depression and anxiety can creep into our lives.
In today’s world, we are more “connected” than ever with social media and cellphones, which, literally, makes us available 24/7. Being connected does not mean we have community. With community, we go beyond the mass communication of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram that tells us “stuff” but does not allow us to read someone’s body language, connect eye-to-eye, hear the tone of a person’s voice, have an intimate conversation, or give witness to raw emotions and feelings.
We humans are hardwired for community. That is how we survived in our very early days on this planet. We helped each other with the hunting and gathering. As a community, we could better protect ourselves from the physical dangers of the world. We kept each other safe in the dark of the night. And, our face-to-face communication kept everyone “in the know.”
Our modern world has lessened the need for group hunting and gathering as our food is now in the confines of the four walls of a grocery store. Our homes provide us with dependable shelter, light, water, and heat. They also repel a large portion of our physical dangers. Our homes keep us safe in the night and separate us from our neighbors. Television, radio, cellphones, and social media keep us informed without ever having to meet face-to-face with another person. We are becoming so used to this separation that some of us have become very uncomfortable with talking to someone face-to-face!
Because of this disconnection, many of us have lost our connection with our Self. By hiding behind our television and computer screens, our cellphones, our social media, and the four walls (real or imagined) that separate us from others, we have become numbed to the need for connection . . . for community.
In the first sentence of the last paragraph, I purposely capitalized the “S” in self. I did this to differentiate “self” from “Self.” self represents the person who perceives little need for community . . . it represents isolation and disconnection. Self represents the person who sees the need for belonging . . . it represents connection and community.
self and Self are often at odds in our Western culture. In my next post, in two weeks, I will talk more about the interplay between self and Self and how self can become Self. So mull over this post, and until next time . . .
Live an inspired life,
We often take the words we use every day for granted. For 2019, I want to dive deeper into our words and tease out their wisdom.
I know that each of us may have different thoughts about the words I will be sharing with you. And, that’s okay! Each of us have our own perspective based on our lifetime of experiences.
I encourage each of you to share your own thoughts about each Wise Word. My hope is that a dialogue will be started that gives us all an opportunity to get curious, to look deeper into ourselves, and to grow from the experience.
On the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, I will be positing a new Wise Word. It seems like “hump day” is a good day for new inspiration. So check in often.
I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you throughout the year.
In the meantime . . .
Live an inspired life.
This week, I had planned to write about the first of the four spheres of influence introduced in my last blog. However, there has been a change in plans as The Amazin’ Raisin was very insistent about being the topic this week.
Who is The Amazin’ Raisin? She is a cat my husband rescued a year ago. Through true grit, a strong will to live, and a ridiculous amount of resilience, she is gracing our household today.
This is Raisin—then and now!
On a cool, rainy night, Raisin and two siblings were trapped in a large dog carrier on the stoop of an abandoned house. My husband called me on his way home to tell me he was bringing kittens. As the three kittens were retrieved from the carrier, it was obvious that Raisin was in dire straits and was taken directly to the emergency vet. She was cold, wet, severely malnourished, covered with maggots, and had a broken leg. The vet on duty gave her a 10-15% chance of surviving. In fact, they could not get a temperature on Raisin for the first 18 hours because she was so hypothermic. But that kitten wanted to live! She was shaved to get rid of all the maggots and maggot eggs, given intravenous fluids, syringe fed a high protein mix of food, and given daily medications for about 6 weeks. There was concern that she would have to have her broken leg amputated but she responded well to the vet’s version of a splint made with Popsicle sticks. Through it all, Raisin took everything that came her way in stride and thrived. Today, she has only a hint of a limp when she walks slowly (which is rarely) and gets into every nook and cranny she can.
What does all this about Raisin have to do with a blog about mental health? Raisin was, and is, all about resilience and a strong desire to heal and thrive. All too often, it is these characteristics that individuals lose connection with when they turn to counseling.
By definition, resilience is the ability to adapt to whatever life puts before you regardless of the hurdles, barriers, and blocks put in your way. These adversities can be any number of things including abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), loss, prejudice, poverty, neglect, illness, or disability. Each of these are experienced in ways that are unique to the person. What is a hurdle, barrier, or block for one may not be so for another. We each have some level of ability to weather such storms and these experiences school us in resilience. Yet, when these experiences are unremitting or cumulative, a person’s natural resilience can be worn down and broken. When resilience is depleted, a person collapses within themselves even if they outwardly put up a good front for others. Such a person is in a state of scarcity and believes in “I am not ____.”
Working with a patient, compassionate therapist can help such a person reconnect with their strengths and inherent goodness. Babette Rothschild, noted trauma therapist, describes this work as helping “reacquaint the client with resources and resilience she knew but has lost touch with….” Just as each person responds to adversity in their own unique way, the therapeutic healing process is also unique to the individual. In its essence, the process is walking with the client from the place of limitations to the place of possibilities. Together the counselor and client change his or her story from one of lack and brokenness to one of abundance and wholeness. Mary Pipher (best known for her book, Reviving Ophelia) describes the process as “the building of a roomier container to hold our experiences.” We make room for the past experiences as well as our new beliefs about possibilities and growth.
Raisin, for all her heart, would not have been able to heal without the help of others. She accepted that help and did her part. What do you need help with and are you ready to reach out and accept that help?
Peace and joy,
Pipher, M. (2009). Seeking peace: Chronicles of the worst Buddhist in the world. New York: Riverhead Books.
Rothschild, B. (2000). The body remembers: The psychophysiology of trauma and trauma treatment. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.