In pursuing a vocation in counselor education, tolerance is a daily and necessary practice. Respecting the myriad viewpoints, regardless of whether or not they align with mine, is the ethical obligation counseling demands. Tolerance itself has always been a motif in my worldview — a concept I would thread through my life in any career.
History has been burdened and blistered by ugly intolerance since the beginning of time. What Mahatma Gandhi described as “a form of violence, ” has birthed genocide, persecution, and oppression. It is fatal to understanding and feeds ignorance as the rift between two or more clashing parties widen. In today’s society, intolerance has many names: the Third Reich. The Westboro Baptist Church. The Ku Klux Klan. The homophobic neighbor. Your racist grandfather. The terrifying thing about intolerance is just how normal it has become in today’s society. What we need is more tolerance. The ability to provide respect for the experiences, beliefs, views, and values of others is both an imperative exercise and a right deserved by all. Many confuse tolerance with acceptance. Just as we have the right to be tolerated, we have the right to reject views that do not fit in our worldview. Respect is not synonymous with encompassing opposing lifestyles or religions. In a utopian society, we would listen, discuss, and disagree peacefully. Counseling has further sculpted the definition and brought to light just how quintessential tolerance is to the growth and improvement of a society. In my profession, I will deal with clients possessing many different views, some of which being intolerant themselves. In a Vice article, one Portlandian therapist wrote about struggling with a particularly racist police officer who referred to a former psychiatrist as a “New York Jew who should have died in the ovens of Auschwitz. ” The therapist was angered, but stuck to his core clinical beliefs and tolerated the client’s worldview.
These are the situations I anticipate, preparing for the conflict of client-counselor worldviews and utilizing tolerance to attempt and guide them to a breakthrough. It is normal for therapists to meet unideal patients and ultimately be frustrated at their narrow-mindedness or skewed views. However, it is important not to act out on these feelings, as most people would rarely respond well to hostility. Conversely, nothing is more disarming than the phrase, “I disagree, but I understand. ” Civil dialogue is key to addressing these problems and working together to find a solution. We cannot solve every problem this way because people do not always listen.
Tolerance will not always fix the sexist or the bigot, dissuasions falling on their deaf ears. It is not our job as human beings to convert others into schools of thought. It is a change that comes within. We can achieve human decency within ourselves in providing kindness and compassion, providing a shelter of tolerance to those who have experienced traumatic acts, words, or behaviors from people who are simply unwilling to understand. Tolerance is a learned skill that can only be perfected through practice.
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