Trust, tolerance, listening and respect at work and home

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, January 22, 2015

“Respect comes from understanding deeply enough to appreciate our differences.” —David Forbes

My column for Jan. 8 referred to the beauty of frost images on a window as an example of teamwork among the various crystalline formations.

But it added a caution by aerospace industry leader Sandy McLeod about the dangers of failing at human teamwork in our eventual habitation of space. You’ll recall that Sandy said:

“Before mankind actually attempts full and permanent habitation in Space, we must be able to get along much better than we do on planet Earth or we simply will perish. There is no margin whatsoever for human conflict out there.”

Well, our coffee companions sure picked up on that point. Writer/editor David Forbes responded:

I AGREE WITH Sandy’s comments. However, one does not need to be in a confined space, such as a cockpit, to be in a situation as he described.  Even with much space where I have worked, I’ve seen people unable to get along together civilly. Communication issues, politics, mental health and mind games cause problems. Of course, it can happen in our homes as well.

—David Forbes, Medicine Hat

PHOTO-ESSAYIST Jack Blair, a top industrial management person before retiring, also agrees. He wrote:

IN CONNECTING with Sandy’s thoughts and your ice crystal image, I found myself returning to a question I’ve asked myself many times in my photographic journey: Why is it that the formation of ice crystals seems to be so random, so unpredictable, so much full of chaos, and yet, when the right combinations come together, the beauty is outstanding?

The same thought occurs when I think of our human-to-human relationships, romantic and otherwise. These too seem to occur as a result of events and environments mostly outside our control. They occur within the chaos of life. But under the right conditions, beautiful relationships can result.

I think a couple of factors that make such relationships work are trust and tolerance. When two people truly trust each other in every way, the relationship always seems to be solid.

—Jack Blair, Cochrane

THANKS, JACK, for emphasizing the importance of trust and tolerance, not only in the workplace, but at home and elsewhere. As Sandy pointed out, lives depend on such a relationship in space exploration, and obviously, as both you and David note, good marriages do, too.

But I need to clarify here two very different takes on the word “tolerance.”

One meaning of “tolerance” according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary is: “the disposition to adopt a liberal attitude towards the opinions or acts of others.” On the positive side, it suggests the kind of willingness to rise above differences in cultural values and lifestyle that underlie the Canadian embrace of pluralism. This, I think, is what Jack is getting at.

There’s emerging a more negative understanding of the word, however, that I’m increasingly encountering in interreligious dialogue. This meaning has more to do with “grinning and bearing” the differences – with “putting up with” (by our own standards) others’ shortcomings. Those who are sensitive to this nuance relate the noun “tolerance” to the verb “tolerate” – to tolerate, much as we tolerate a painful experience, such as a toothache.

Writer/speaker David Irvine, a specialist in workplace relationships, addressed this side of tolerance in his response. In that sense, he said, tolerance is not enough. We must embrace respect. And respect must begin with heartfelt listening. I’ll give David the last word:

YEARS AGO I HEARD this statement that has stayed with me: “What we do not listen to, we do not understand. What we do not understand, we fear. What we fear, we seek to destroy.”

Fear and anger will continue to increase unless we notice what is happening within and around us. The wisdom in this statement reminds me that anger and judgment are defenses against fear. When I am afraid, I need to turn toward understanding, an openness to learn.

At the end of the day, who wants to be simply “tolerated?” Tolerance is a civil response to differences, but it doesn’t go far enough. It’s indifferent. People want those they work and live with to be more than “tolerant.” We want to be respected, appreciated, and accepted, not merely “tolerated.” These qualities are an extension of how we experience ourselves, and come from developing some often under-used muscles: humility, curiosity, and a willingness to listen and learn.

Through listening, we learn; through learning, we understand; through understanding, we appreciate and respect ourselves and those around us. The goal is understanding, not necessarily agreement. We don’t have to agree with each other to show respect. Respect comes from understanding deeply enough to appreciate our differences.

—David Irvine, Cochrane


© 2015 Warren Harbeck

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