As a Matter of Course

VII.

TOLERANCE.

WHEN we are tolerant as a matter of course, the nervous system is relieved of almost the worst form of persistent irritation it could have.

The freedom of tolerance can only be appreciated by those who have known the suffering of intolerance and gained relief.

A certain perspective is necessary to a recognition of the full absurdity of intolerance. One of the greatest absurdities of it is evident when we are annoyed and caused intense suffering by our intolerance of others, and, as a consequence, blame others for the fatigue or illness which follows. However mistaken or blind other people may be in their habits or their ideas, it is entirely our fault if we are annoyed by them. The slightest blame given to another in such a case, on account of our suffering, is quite out of place.

Our intolerance is often unconscious. It is disguised under one form of annoyance or another, but when looked full in the face, it can only be recognized as intolerance.

Of course, the most severe form is when the belief, the action, or habit of another interferes directly with our own selfish aims. That brings the double annoyance of being thwarted and of rousing more selfish antagonism.

Where our selfish desires are directly interfered with, or even where an action which we know to be entirely right is prevented, intolerance only makes matters worse. If expressed, it probably rouses bitter feelings in another. Whether we express it openly or not, it keeps us in a state of nervous irritation which is often most painful in its results. Such irritation, if not extreme in its effect, is strong enough to keep any amount of pure enjoyment out of life.

There may be some one who rouses our intolerant feelings, and who may have many good points which might give us real pleasure and profit; but they all go for nothing before our blind, restless intolerance.

It is often the case that this imaginary enemy is found to be a friend and ally in reality, if we once drop the wretched state of intolerance long enough to see him clearly.

Yet the promptest answer to such an assertion will probably be, “That may be so in some cases, but not with the man or woman who rouses my intolerance.”

It is a powerful temptation, this one of intolerance, and takes hold of strong natures; it frequently rouses tremendous tempests before it can be recognized and ignored. And with the tempest comes an obstinate refusal to call it by its right name, and a resentment towards others for rousing in us what should not have been there to be roused.

So long as a tendency to anything evil is in us, it is a good thing to have it roused, recognized, and shaken off; and we might as reasonably blame a rock, over which we stumble, for the bruises received, as blame the person who rouses our intolerance for the suffering we endure.

This intolerance, which is so useless, seems strangely absurd when it is roused through some interference with our own plans; but it is stranger when we are rampant against a belief which does not in any way interfere with us.

This last form is more prevalent in antagonistic religious beliefs than in anything else. The excuse given would be an earnest desire for the salvation of our opponent. But who ever saved a soul through an ungracious intolerance of that soul’s chosen way of believing or living? The danger of loss would seem to be all on the other side.

One’s sense of humor is touched, in spite of one’s self, to hear a war of words and feeling between two Christians whose belief is supposed to be founded on the axiom, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Without this intolerance, argument is interesting, and often profitable. With it, the disputants gain each a more obstinate belief in his own doctrines; and the excitement is steadily destructive to the best health of the nervous system.

Again, there is the intolerance felt from various little ways and habits of others,–habits which are comparatively nothing in themselves, but which are monstrous in their effect upon a person who is intolerant of them.

One might almost think we enjoyed irritated nerves, so persistently do we dwell upon the personal peculiarities of others. Indeed, there is no better example of biting off one’s own nose than the habit of intolerance. It might more truly be called the habit of irritating one’s own nervous system.

Having recognized intolerance as intolerance, having estimated it at its true worth, the next question is, how to get rid of it. The habit has, not infrequently, made such a strong brain-impression that, in spite of an earnest desire to shake it off, it persistently clings.

Of course, the soil about the obnoxious growth is loosened the moment we recognize its true quality. That is a beginning, and the rest is easier than might be imagined by those who have not tried it.

Intolerance is an unwillingness that others should live in their own way, believe as they prefer to, hold personal habits which they enjoy or are unconscious of, or interfere in any degree with our ways, beliefs, or habits.

That very sense of unwillingness causes a contraction of the nerves which is wasteful and disagreeable. The feeling rouses the contraction, the contraction more feeling; and so the Intolerance is increased in cause and in effect. The immediate effect of being willing, on the contrary, is, of course, the relaxation of such contraction, and a healthy expansion of the nerves.