Not everyone is entitled to their opinion
From a certain point of view, I’m not very tolerant. There is a saying, “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion.” I disagree.
Opinions form the basis for action. Therefore some opinions, such as that those that hold that some people are lesser beings because of a particular trait, should not be accepted. That means stating clearly that these opinions lead to actions that are harmful to others. It also means taking persuasive action to address not only the opinions, but the actions to which they lead.
It’s a long, hard road, building relationships with people with whom you disagree. But it’s only on the basis of that relationship that any persuasion has any hope of being effective. Really looking at what you think and feel and being honest about that can only take place in an environment of trust
Giving up on my opinions in order to build relationship
On this relationship-building road, I have to give up my opinions about the other person. To do so, I acknowledge–to myself–that I think they’re an asshole, or a racist, or whatever. I acknowledge–again, to myself, in self-care time–what comes up for me around what they’re saying or doing. Then I do something to care for my needs around this situation.
However, not only do I have to give up my opinions about the other person, I also have to give up the fruits of relationship-building. I take right action without any expectation of the outcome. I may or may not get the desired result. I may never end up being friends with the person whose opinions are intolerable to me (maybe I will never even want to be their friend).
Results or no, friends or no, seeing “others”–including those who disagree with or scare me–as human, and relating to them, is simply the right thing to do. It’s sowing peace in a time of conflict. It’s bringing more kindness and humanity into a world that sorely needs them. This alone changes the world on a very basic level. The more I offer kindness, to myself and others, the more kindness there is in the world.Seeing “others” as human, and relating to them, is simply the right thing to do. This alone… Click To Tweet
But I’m no doormat
When confronted with intolerance, I can address it and still think of the person holding the intolerant opinion as human. I don’t tolerate the racism, the sexism, the homo- and trans-phobia, the anti-Semitism, the anti-Islamicism. But because I am 100% committed to nonviolence, I am equally committed to not hating. I see the person there in front of me.
I’m also committed to being honest with myself and others about how I’m affected by what they’re saying. When someone says something hurtful, I acknowledge my hurt to myself, and my fear and vulnerability about what I’m about to say. Then I express that. “Hey! Hang on a second. I was shocked just now by what you said. It hurt to hear that… and I’m scared even saying this.”
The other person may not care at all about my hurt feelings in the moment because they are more focused on what’s scaring or hurting them. So they might continue on their rant. The kindest option is for me to continue, on the inside, to care for my hurt and fear, and to take refuge in the truth of our shared humanity.
Taking refuge in our shared humanity
By taking refuge, I mean clinging to the sense of our shared humanity like it’s a log in the North Atlantic and I’ve just fallen off the sinking Titanic. By refuge, I mean using it to shelter me from harm like a refugee would seek shelter in a church offering refuge. By refuge, I mean hanging onto it like my life depends on it.
Because it does.
If I don’t see others as human, if I don’t actively work up a felt sense of connection and shared humanity—we breathe the same air, our hearts both beat, we both have people we care for, we’re both scared—then I’m making myself vulnerable to what is perhaps the worst evil possible.
If I don’t see others as human, I’m laying the ground on which I can perpetrate the same level of hurt, crimes, or abuses. I’m literally preparing myself to become a Nazi. As a Jew, I use this word advisedly and mean it literally, with all its impact. When I dehumanize an “other,” I am then a person who could imprison, torture and kill other humans, all the while thinking I’m entitled to do so because they are not human.
What does all this have to do with stress?
The hormones that are released when I’m in fear or anger engage the body’s resources to respond to threat. Every time I read a news story that makes me angry, or I have angry conversations in my head with offensive people, or have heated conversations with other people about how wrong these intolerant idiots are, my brain reads the associated emotions of anger, frustration, etc. as threat and mobilize my organism to respond. But there is no release of the pent-up resources, and over and over again I get angry and frustrated.
The pent-up emotion and stress on my inner resources lead me to flip my lid, interfere with my ability to connect with others, and lead me to act violently in my own defense. Over and over again I flood my body with stress hormones, leading to chronic hyper-activation of my nervous system. I no longer have resources available for daily life. My health and relationships suffer.
The good news
The good news is the opposite is also true. If I take in a limited amount of info–enough to understand the issues but not so much that it overstimulates me–my nervous system can stay on an even keel.
When I focus on our shared humanity, and cultivate the feel of that connection, stress hormones don’t kick in. My lid is on and I can make choices and take action that serve both of us and the world.
By acting in a loving way toward myself and at least thinking kindly about this other person, I’m adding more kindness to the world. (It’s at this point that I might choose to invite them into a connecting dialogue, or take action in the world myself, but I won’t say more here because that’s beyond the scope of this post.)
When I’m feeling stressed and I offer myself some kindness, my mind reads that as soothing. Where another threat (angry thoughts, for example) will just jack me up more, kindness soothes my nervous system. It engages the relaxation response and facilitates cortical function. I’m calm, present and can think clearly. Kindness is an antidote to stress.
And in the end, isn’t a world with more kindness and less hate and stress the very world you’d like to see?
If you’re curious and want to learn more about how to connect compassionately with yourself and others, maybe you’ll be interested in the two-day Communicating with Compassion workshop I’m facilitating October 17 and 18, 2017 in Perth, Ontario.
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To register, contact Alia Offman firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-264-1985.