Love and Tolerance
I’ve been thinking this week of how judgment and criticism are natural ways out of which we operate as humans. Our instinct is to want to compare, compete, self-protect and criticize. I know this as someone who can go from zero to annoyed in approximately .3 seconds. Entering into recovery, however, offers an alternative to my instinctual desire to criticize. I no longer have to fall into selfishness, dishonesty, resentments and fear. Recovery has not only held me accountable to a new way of living, but it has also shown me how to love.
I recently read an article on critical listening versus empathic listening. Empathic listening means we listen to another unconditionally in order to hear his/her point of view. Critical listening means that we listen to another in order to decide if his/her point of view is valid.
We have a principle for this in the community of the 12-step programs. It’s called love and tolerance.
The call to love and tolerate is a call to lay aside judgment and scrutiny and embrace others as our fellows. It’s an active willingness to stop fighting to be right and requires I listen to another as my equal.
Sometimes, however, our ideas of tolerance become skewed. Instead of tolerance being an act of acceptance, we can “tolerate” people from a place of arrogance. In the rooms, we’re tempted to say we “tolerate” others as dressed-up way of saying, “I think you’re dumb, but I have to put up with you.” Tolerance, in this sense, does not come out of humility. It might keep us from saying mean things or ostracizing others, but this is not love.
Love and tolerance do not mean that we try our hardest not to go get a cup of coffee during the long-winded person’s share. It’s not just about biting our tongue when we want to be hurtful. Love and tolerance are much more than what we say or what we do. Love and tolerance start with the way we see those around us.
Recovery is not just an individual journey. Recovery asks that we reach out to help others out of a true desire to see people live out of their true selves. Recovery means I’m a part of something bigger than my own sobriety. And love and tolerance require us not merely to notice the people standing around us—it asks us to accept others for who they are.
I cannot both criticize and love. I can’t accept someone while judging them. And our culture doesn’t need more people who insist on being right—it needs more people who are willing to value and affirm others.
Everyone we encounter is worthy of love. When we choose love, we free people to be who they are. When we love from a place of acceptance, we offer strength and hope. This kind of love is a shame-busting, courage-giving invitation to be fully alive. True tolerance and love has room for differing opinions and annoying personalities. It’s the kind of love that gives us strength to embrace recovery and press through during the dark days.
And we are freed to love people because we ourselves are loved by our Higher Power. We’re not arrogantly tolerated—we’re valued as those fully known, flaws and all.
When we love, we are willing to see others as more than that with which they struggle. We learn to practice forgiveness and grace and we teach others to do the same.
In loving, we cooperate with God’s heart toward those around us. We draw out the light within—we fuel a flame that burns with faith and trust. Our love reminds people that today can be different than yesterday.
This is something criticism will never do. Judgment can’t impart strength. Arrogance can’t give others space to grow.
But real love and acceptance can. And this is the hand we’re called to extend, offering new beginnings, purpose and deep hope to those who need it.
–Chris Gibson, MDiv