simply tolerate

On a recent This I Believe essay on NPR, the speaker, Jim Haynes, talked about his weekly Sunday dinner party. Anyone can sign up to attend until space is gone, typically 50-60 people. He hosts total strangers, travelers, students, etc. who join him for dinner. First, what a great concept; but something he said in the course of the program really caught my attention.

I have long believed that it is unnecessary to understand others, individuals or nationalities; one must, at the very least, simply tolerate others. Tolerance can lead to respect and, finally, to love. No one can ever really understand anyone else, but you can love them or at least accept them.

What strikes me about this statement is that it seems to go against what one would normally try to do. We are always trying to “understand” someone. I’m constantly saying, “I just don’t get [fill in person’s name].” Mr. Haynes gave me a great wakeup call. Understanding should not be the goal. As a matter of fact, there are very few people in our lives we will truly and deeply understand. Even one’s spouse or dearest friend will do or say things you just don’t get. When I think about it, I don’t want to be understood; it implies predicability.

The next very cool thing about this statement is that the phrase he uses to “simply tolerate others”, at first sounds negative. Like we’re just gritting our teeth until they are gone or something. And maybe that’s how it starts if you really don’t “understand” someone. But the point is that the more you tolerate, the more you will accept and hopefully eventually respect as well. Tolerance is an overused word in today’s society. It takes on a watered down meaning. We forget what it really means to tolerate towards a goal of accepting.

Thank you the wake up call. And if I’m ever in Paris on a Sunday, I will definitely make a reservation to dine!

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