I’ve been thinking for a while that I should write about intolerance. It seems that some people are not very tolerant of ideas and beliefs that are not in alignment with theirs. Locally, it comes up quite often when someone disagrees with a political position and calls the other person a moron, idiot or worse. It happens all over, though and it points toward what I see as a bigger problem that we all could do a better job at labeling.
I’ve been fortunate to have Stedman Graham as one of my mentors and Stedman speaks in great detail about how society will put us in a box if we let it. That box defines who we are and unless we have a strong identity, we will be relegated to living our lives in that box and living that label.
Politically, there are liberals and conservatives. Of course there are also folks who reside somewhere in between. These groups are made up of individual people who have specific beliefs. That is often missed and folks with opposite views label everyone with a broad brush.
When I was in corporate America, I posted for a job managing adults with cognitive or developmental disabilities. When I got the job, I realized that I knew nothing about people in this department, and in fact I had to confront the fact that I wasn’t all that comfortable in that environment.
I figured the best way to get comfortable was to gain knowledge and the best place to gain the knowledge was to go to the individuals and ask them to educate me on their challenges. Four years later I was managing people in Maine, Cleveland and Canada and educating managers on best practices for managing adults with cognitive disabilities.
You know what was interesting? Those best practices were no different than the ones for adults without disabilities. I learned what worked from individuals, not labeled people. My daughter and son in law were generous enough to adopt a child from the DHS system here in Maine. She has a cognitive disability that is the result of her early childhood, but with a lot of hard work, she has turned into a bright, beautiful young lady.
The comments about special class and the short bus hurt deep because they’re labels that try to put her in a box without recognizing her as an individual that has to work harder than most for anything she wants.
I have some great friends who are black. I have some great friends who are white. What I don’t have are white friends and black friends. They’re individuals that mean the world to me. I refuse to put them in any box.
I had an interesting conversation with one of those friends who shared that he didn’t understand how the label African American got applied to him. His family has been in Pennsylvania for generations. He showed me a family picture with several generations and there are white people and black people in the picture, but they’re all family. Just calling him an American would work for him.
Now I understand that there are people out there who beat the drum of their race or their politics or perhaps their religion, or whatever else is occupying their life. They have put themselves in a box and they are content with that box. Those are not the folks I’m talking about. It’s all the rest of us.
There are lots of us here in this country. We’re all pretty good people. We have different ideas and beliefs. That’s what makes the whole thing special. I think we need to show a little more tolerance for people with views that don’t align with ours. It’s fine to disagree, but we don’t need to be disagreeable.
It also might be a good time to give some thoughts to the labels we give folks. We’re all individuals and it serves no good to put us into groups and then attack or disparage us because you put us in those groups.
Several years ago, I was involved in a situation here in town with some other folks, and the Board of Selectmen labeled us as “you people.” We were trying to resolve a problem and save the town a considerable amount of money and all the board could see was that we were holding up a process that would qualify the town for a grant.
In the end, there was no need for any action and no grants were needed. We still feel the label of “you people” today.
We’ve all been labeled at one time or another. Before you are quick to label someone whose views don’t align with yours, remember what it felt like when you were labeled. Try to be a little more tolerant. That is all.
Bill Packard lives in Union
Bill Packard lives in Union and is the founder of BPackard.com. He is a speaker, author, small business coach and consultant.
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