Empathy, of course, is the ability to observe others and put youself in their place, imagining how it feels to be them. According to Neil Gaiman, one of the important benefits of reading fiction is that it creates for readers a sense of empathy with characters in the story. Fiction provides readers details about other people’s lives that we don’t normally have as we go about our own everyday life and that helps us imagine ourself in another person’s life and circumstances. Gaiman believes that this empathic insight gifted to us as readers of fiction makes us better people. Has reading fiction made you more empathic in your life? It has me.
Tolerance is the abilty to remain unprejudiced against people who choose differently than you do. Tolerance is that “live and let live” attitude that has been a common axiom of everyday life. Tolerance seems to have become less common in our days of blanket attitudes being broadcast in social media or mainstream media. Each person only lives their own singular life and it is finite. Since different people want different things, it has been common to accept that in seeking happiness, each person should have room to follow their own path which will differ from that of some others or even most others. Robert Frost wrote about “the road less travelled,” praising it by implication in his famous poem. Avoiding harming other people by imposing one’s own expectations on them has always been another part of being tolerant.
Sociologists know that people have a trait of grouping themselves with others that they can recognize as being like themselves. If you pass out a bunch of t-shirts to a large group in 5 different colors, people will automatically group with others of their color t-shirt. And further, people like to imagine that their group is better than the other groups. You can observe people trying to outperform other people in other groups by using whatever ability their group has to distinguish itself. This can be fun but it can also lead to problems like intolerance and lack of empathy for people in other groups.
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As we go forward in the holiday season, let’s remember to be tolerant and empathetic towards others who aren’t like people in our group. Whether you are in this group or that, it’s helpful to remember that we are all human beings. We each have important abilities to share and develop and these abilities are needed in the world. The Grand Human Potential is shared among millions of human beings. No person has the entire evolutionary gamut of human potential but instead we each have only a small and limited part of the total of human potential. Having more empathy and tolerance might help you to explore past whatever is frustrating you now in your own life. Maybe more tolerance and empathy will lead you down new pathways.
If you feel that you lack empathy, and you want more empathy, try imagining how it feels to be someone else. Or try reading some fiction or writing a story where you try to imagine the feelings of several different characters. If you feel that you lack tolerance, ask yourself how tolerance can serve you as you go forward being more accepting of people who are different from you in the choices that they are making. There are many paths being followed right now by many different people. You can be tolerant of differences. If you ever are ready to try something new, other trailblazers will be sure to have preceded you, thank goodness. It’s kind of wonderful that so many possibilities exist in life. Aliveness is all about having many life affirming possibilities.