RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Tag: Tolerance

Why I look forward to living in a tolerant free society

Tolerant.

A word which has become so commonplace in western society that if the Oxford English Dictionary were listed in order of ubiquity it would appear near the beginning.  It is viewed as something good, worthy, virtuous even – the hallmark of a progressive society.  There is an air of self-congratulation about it because we have managed to suppress something we instinctively feel, in order to promote an outer acceptance.  Politicians and other leaders announce that we live in a tolerant society as if we have arrived at some kind of cultural ideal.

But is it really this simple? To feel tolerant of something you first have to perceive it as different from you in some shape or form, most often the opinion or behaviour of another individual or group.  The term has become synonymous with accepting people from other countries and cultures into the place in which we live and work.  But the very act of tolerating keeps us separate from those we wish to integrate with.  If you feel the need to tolerate, then you are still experiencing a difference from yourself which you feel some discomfort about.  It suggests an element of effort, a ‘putting up with’ for the benefit of the greater good.

Perhaps this doesn’t matter if it enables people to live together in a friendly and cordial manner.  However, the wall of tolerance often serves only to restrain the frustration at having to accept that which our instincts tell us to be wary of.  Under pressure from external stress such as unemployment or lack of resources, these repressed feelings break forth in the form of blame or anger directed at those we previously accepted.  From early humans to modern man instinct has provided a warning to be cautious of strangers and tolerance is merely a sticking plaster covering this innate response and does little to negate it completely.

Genetic Ancestry Tree

Genetic Ancestry Tree

But overcome it we can, as living alongside those from other parts of the globe becomes the norm and over time differences will cease to both us, there will be no tolerance required, no pre-judgement or labelling as to who is friend and who is foe. Historically migration took centuries, the mixing of cultures happened slowly with integration following initial resistance.  My own DNA can be traced back centuries to the North Caucasus region on my maternal side and Germanic roots on my father’s.  At the time of testing in 2009 the closest match on record to my genetic profile was that of a Turkish individual and an Iranian.  It’s not so much that we will end up in one homogenous melting pot but rather than eyed with suspicion, our differences will be embraced.

Already the 21st century has seen a rapid increase in relocation but our instincts, slow to change their habitual response, have yet to catch up.  One day the word ‘tolerant’ maybe obsolete and dropped entirely from the Oxford English Dictionary  . . .  only then will we live in a truly free society.

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One Marshmallow or Two? The Lost Art of Delayed Gratification

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A desire indulged spontaneously offers little more than momentary, fleeting pleasure – a treat, whose value is briefly inflated before it melts with a small sigh across our memory.

That which has been anticipated, struggled over and procrastinated against carries within it our best efforts in the shape of an earned understanding.  The resulting fulfillment is part of us, radiating a deep and lasting satisfaction that the sugary goosebumps of a treat can never hope to imitate.

It is more than 5o years since Walter Mischel’s social experiment with four year olds, in which they could enjoy the instant pleasure of eating a single marshmallow or wait twenty minutes and have two. Each child was left alone to make the choice. It was a battle between desire and self-control; gratification and delay.  A seemingly simple tussle and yet the ability to resist impulse is a fundamental emotional skill, the foundation stone of self-control.  The children who managed to wait did so by distracting themselves, demonstrating perseverance towards fulfillment of a future goal.  Follow up studies showed that those who managed to resist temptation went on to lead happier and more successful lives than those who gave into it.

Our capacity to resist is under threat.  Modern life teases, tempts and torments, seducing us into believing that not only must we have the latest phone, the most exotic holiday or the best job, we need to be the first.  We expect to achieve with limited effort on our part – because we deserve it, don’t we?  We have conformed to – and now embrace – an era of instant gratification and our ability to satiate our constant demands has become the currency by which we value ourselves and judge others, the scale by which we perceive our success.  It is the market by which our economy thrives or dives, the treadmill updated from industrial 20th to digital 21st century. Gone are the days when saving up for, or working towards the object of our desire was not only necessary but character building, strengthening resolve, patience and the ability to endure discomfort and disappointment.

 Patience is a word out of sync with our modern society.  We are so used to our desires being  instantly met, that a certain complacency sets in and we struggle to endure the discordant sensations of wanting and lack.  Waiting feels an unreasonable request, we expect it not of ourselves but of others;  so we complain and demand like a two year old whose needs are not attended to.  The planning and  anticipation of fulfillment has become the new addiction, the skin deep ‘high’ satisfying little more than a momentary whim before we’re seeking the next fix.  Lasting satisfaction comes from striving, embedding our heart and soul within our endeavours, elevating the pleasure and value way beyond the instantaneous.

The art of balancing treat and toil is fast disappearing. Let’s refuse to settle for indulgent underachievement and strive for the infinitely more satisfying depths of delayed gratification.

And then enjoy a treat!  One marshmallow or two . . . .

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