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How Tolerance Benefits Our Mental Health (and How to Achieve It)

Normally, we don’t like or use the word “tolerance.” To us, that word makes us feel like we merely need to ignore whatever it is we don’t like; in the case of tolerating an individual, it almost gives a person a pass to reinforce inequality without confrontation. The word “tolerance” can carry an implication of enduring something unpleasant or disagreeable. This suggests that the tolerated differences or individuals are somehow inherently negative or problematic, and that the tolerating party is merely putting up with them. This can lead to a lack of genuine acceptance and respect for diversity.

This month, however, recognizes the International Day of Tolerance (Nov. 16), and in light of that day, we wanted to dive into the deeper meaning of the word. In today’s fast-paced world, where differences in opinion and perspective are prevalent, the ability to tolerate and understand these differences has become more important than ever. Tolerance is not just a virtue; it’s a powerful tool that can significantly benefit mental health. 

What Is Tolerance?

Tolerance can be defined as the capacity to accept, respect, and appreciate the differences in others, whether they are related to culture, beliefs, opinions, or backgrounds. It’s the willingness to coexist peacefully and engage in constructive dialogue, even when confronted with ideas that differ from our own. But there are numerous ways in which tolerance contributes to mental well-being, and it can be crucial in our increasingly diverse and interconnected society.

 

The Connection between Tolerance and Mental Health:

It Can Reduces Stress and Anxiety

Tolerance promotes a more peaceful and harmonious coexistence with others, which can lead to reduced stress and anxiety. When we are more accepting of different viewpoints and experiences, we are less likely to engage in conflicts that can be mentally taxing. Tolerance allows us to channel our energy towards positive, stress-reducing activities and fosters a sense of emotional well-being.

 

It Can Build Resilience

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and difficult situations. Tolerance helps develop this resilience by exposing us to diverse perspectives and challenges. When we learn to tolerate differences, we become better equipped to face the inevitable hardships of life. This, in turn, contributes to our mental strength and overall well-being.

 

It Can Foster Empathy and Compassion

These are two words we use often. Having empathy and compassion for others who are different from you can be hard, especially when you’ve never engaged with them. Tolerance encourages us to see the world through the eyes of others, promoting empathy and compassion. When we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and try to understand their experiences and struggles, we create a more compassionate and supportive world. These feelings of empathy and compassion can significantly boost our own mental health by reducing feelings of isolation and alienation, and bringing on feelings of contentment and peace from the positive experience of connecting with someone on a deeper level. 

 

It Can Strengthen Social Connections

If you can have compassion and empathy for those who are different from you, you can begin to build on those relationships, which can improve your mental health greatly. Strong social connections are vital for mental health. Tolerance, compassion and empathy facilitates these connections by making it easier to relate to and connect with a diverse group of people. When we are open to different cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs, we expand our social networks, which can provide emotional support, reduce loneliness, and increase feelings of belonging.

It Can Enhance Problem-Solving Skills

You may have preconceived ideas about those who are different from you; ideas that promote a negative image of that person, culture or religion. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself where, or who, those ideas came from? Asking yourself this may lead you to realize that the ideas were not your own original thoughts. In this case, you can form your own opinions by doing some research and drawing conclusions for yourself, which will sharpen your problem-solving skills. Tolerance often goes hand in hand with effective communication and conflict resolution skills. When we are open to listening and understanding different perspectives, we become better problem-solvers. This ability to find common ground and work collaboratively not only benefits our relationships but also our mental well-being by reducing the frustration that comes from unresolved conflicts.  

 

It Can Promote a Sense of Purpose

Engaging in acts of tolerance, and more so, acts of kindness, respect, compassion and empathy, can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Being part of a community that values diversity and promotes tolerance can boost one’s self-esteem and self-worth. This, in turn, has a positive impact on mental health by helping you feel a sense of purpose in your life. If you can better understand a person, culture or religion that you once disliked, you may find yourself wanting to help them by volunteering or raising awareness to help others better understand. Taking your experience of overcoming simply tolerating , and using it to educate and inform others, will give you a sense of purpose knowing that you are contributing something positive to the world. 

Tolerance is not just a lofty ideal; it’s a practical tool for promoting mental health and well-being. By fostering resilience, reducing stress and anxiety, building empathy, strengthening social connections, enhancing problem-solving skills, and providing a sense of purpose, tolerance contributes to our overall mental health in numerous ways. In an increasingly interconnected and diverse world, embracing tolerance is not just a choice but a necessity for personal and societal well-being. So, let’s strive to be more tolerant and reap the mental health benefits it brings, not only to ourselves but to the world at large.

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Psychology Today
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