Stop Tolerating Differences (Yes… STOP)
Tolerance is for cowards. Being tolerant requires nothing from you but to be quiet and not make waves holding tightly to your views and judgments without being challenged. Do not tolerate each other. Work hard. Move into uncomfortable territory and understand each other.
~ Randall Stephenson, AT&T CEO
This quote comes from a talk given by Randall Stephenson, AT&T CEO, addressing racial tension. Racial tolerance is absolutely one of the most visible and hurtful ways we tolerate another person without ever seeking to really know or understand that person. However, there are so many other subtle and insidious ways we tolerate. Every time we turn away from understanding someone who has different political, religious or social views without seeking to understand them, we’re tolerating. Every time we forward a social media post that affirms what we already subscribe to without challenging it, we’re tolerating. Every time we do something as simple as turning politely away from a sticky situation of differing views without engaging courageously and curiously to understand the other person, we’re tolerating.
I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot recently given our political climate. However, the risk of polite tolerance goes beyond politics. Polite tolerance impacts families and communities and has enormous implications on organizational culture and the ability to achieve results.
Two of the most profound and impactful leaders of our time, Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. did not ask for tolerance nor did they tolerate. They asked for unity. Unity, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is the quality or state of not being multiple (Oneness); a condition of harmony. This does not require that you agree with any person who thinks differently than you do about politics, running the business, raising children or any of countless other topics. Harmony does, however, require seeking to know every person as a person and listening to understand why they think the way they do, regardless of how different they look or think or act and this requires moving into vulnerable, uncomfortable territory to truly understand each other.
We must stop tolerating. We must stop applauding ourselves as valiant for polite toleration of those who look or think differently than we do. As leaders, we must have the courage to get uncomfortable and get vulnerable. For the sake of our organizations, our families, our communities and, dare I say, our world, we must have the courage to talk to each other and, more importantly, to listen to each other.