Tolerance And Fear of the Unknown

JoshDiversity, FamilyLeave a Comment

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Pride Month, so this felt like an appropriate time to talk about tolerance. There are nearly 8 billion people on this planet, all with different life experiences, backgrounds, and belief systems. It is a statistical impossibility to avoid interacting with people with differing views from your own. No matter what you believe or why, you think you’re right if you truly believe it. That would imply that an opposing point of view is wrong. The stronger your conviction in your own belief, the more sure you will feel that the opposing view is wrong.

Does it really matter whose point of view is “right” though? Except in circumstances when you are defending yourself or your loved ones from an imminent threat, there is no reason to allow a difference of opinion to cause you to treat someone badly. I think Ben Harper says it pretty eloquently:

My choice is what I choose to do
And if I’m causing no harm
It shouldn’t bother you
Your choice is who you choose to be
And if you’re causin’ no harm
Then you’re alright with me

Ben Harper, Burn One Down, Fight For Your Mind, 1995

This point of view applies directly to basic human rights. ALL humans, regardless of their race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status, are entitled to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work, education, and more.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – United Nations

As I write this, I understand that my perspective is narrow. I’m constantly looking to expand that perspective by inviting new points of view and trying to learn from other people’s experiences and my own to have an informed opinion on things. Still, I’ll never truly be able to understand another person’s point of view fully. Many people grow up in an environment that pushes them to conform to whatever the accepted belief system is and shelters them from any new perspective.

Xenophobia is typically attributed to race, but originally it had a much broader definition. It is essentially a fear of anything unfamiliar or unknown. Hypothetically, if you were born in a foreign country and from the time you were born through adulthood were taught that Americans are evil, would it be unreasonable to expect that, at best, you would grow up with a significant distrust of Americans? I think that’s pretty reasonable considering the circumstances.

Children are not naturally hateful and intolerant of differences. They are naturally curious, and they may have questions. The way you answer those questions can have an immense impact on your children’s lives. You can teach hate, or you can teach inclusion, open-mindedness, and love.

Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.

Marcus Aurelius

It’s not your job to judge other people’s lives. It’s not your kids’ jobs either. Sometimes, people will do things that you know in your heart to be wrong. People will be dishonest, steal, and cheat. They’ll do things that staunchly oppose your belief system. It is not within your control whether those things happen or not, though. If something is not within your control, why would you spend so much time thinking about it?

While you have no control over what other people do, you have complete control over your own words and actions. If you want to teach your kids to live harmoniously with others, you have to demonstrate it in your own life, not only with what you say but with what you do. Your kids are sponges, and they absorb so much more of what you say and what they see you do than you realize. Making an inappropriate comment under your breath after your server walks away from your table because there is something about them that you disapprove of may seem innocent at the time, but these little moments add up and help shape your child’s point of view.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.

James Clear, Atomic Habits

The context of the above James Clear quote is about building good habits to help you change something about your life. It’s absolutely applicable to this conversation, though. Telling one off-color joke does not make you a bigot, but every time you joke about that same topic or pass judgment on someone based on the same characteristics, it is additional evidence that these thoughts represent your beliefs and who you are.


The reason that I chose the word tolerance to go in the title of this article rather than acceptance or something similar is because you don’t have to agree with someone to coexist peacefully with them. In most cases, if you’re decent to someone, they will be decent back. Over time, with enough interactions, some of those walls that were erected because of the differences between you will start to come down, and you’ll both realize that you’re each on a journey through life, not so different from one another, and you are both just trying to do the best you can. This is how you naturally expand your perspective and begin to grow as a person.

All of a sudden, some of those things that you know in your heart to be wrong are not actually wrong. Your heart begins to change and you understand that your truth is not the only truth.

Every person on this planet deserves to love and be loved.

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