Leadership Perspectives: The Continuum of Tolerance
Yesterday I read a wonderful blog on the Lead Change Group’s website, written by Deborah Costello, entitled Discriminating Leadership. In her blog she states: “The cure for discrimination is not apathy. “I don’t care. Whatever.” can’t be the response to personal revelation. Instead we must reply in ways that lift up and demonstrate understanding. Maybe our answer can be as simple as “OK,” or “Thank you for letting me to know you more completely.” In essence we need to say, “I see you…all of you.”
Her blog struck a very strong cord with me, and I would like to share some additional thoughts from a leadership perspective.
Let me give you some history. I have been given an incredible gift that created a life long learning experience for me, and everyone in our family. My husband and I were blessed with a child who has traveled a difficult path for most of his life. He inherited recessive Retinitis Pigmentosa, an eye disease that slowly robs individuals of their eye sight. We discovered his night blindness when he was 5, and he was declared legally blind at the age of 28. He told us he was gay when he was 13. And, we discovered he was bipolar when he was in his late teens/early twenties.
What we have learned, and continue to learn, is that the world we live in has little tolerance for people who are different from what is perceived to be the norm. The biology of humanity creates a continuum of physical abilities and traits, including skin color (white to blue-black), sexual orientation (homosexual to heterosexual), sexual identity (female to male), the ability to see, and to some degree the ability to control mood swings (bi-polar disorder). The list is enormous, but you get my point.
I submit that there is also a continuum of behavior in our culture’s ability to move into non-discrimination. It moves from intolerance => tolerance => acceptance => inclusiveness => embracing.
Intolerance means the unwillingness to tolerate differences in opinions, practices, or beliefs; opposition to the inclusion or participation of those different from oneself, especially those of a different racial, ethnic or social background; unable or unwilling to endure or support.
Tolerance means the ability or willingness to put up with behavior or opinions that one does not necessarily believe in; the capacity to endure continued subjection to something.
Acceptance means the action or process of being received as adequate into a group; the willingness to tolerate a difficult or unpleasant situation.
Inclusiveness means to deliberately not exclude any parts of society.
Embracing is to accept or support willingly and enthusiastically; to include or contain someone or something as a part of the whole.
You will note that when we talk about humanity, and about the behavior of discrimination, we are talking about the whole of humanity, or a continuous series of behavior – with no part being hugely different from the part on either side of it, but the poles or opposite ends are very different.
We have choices as leaders, and we can certainly choose to exhibit behavior all along the continuum of tolerance. However, as character-based leaders, it is critical for us to show those we lead and work with every day what it means to be at the very least inclusive, if not embracing, of the physical, mental, intellectual and creative differences on our teams.
As Deborah said, “Our abilities to connect, to show empathy, and to demonstrate compassion are vital to effective leadership. Every time we dismiss something that is significant in others, when we choose not to see people fully, we erase a piece of them. This devaluation weakens our teams and communities.”
Eventually, it weakens our ability to lead.
What can you do today to reach out to a colleague and let them know that you care about them, and that you see them in their entirety?
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