James Leroy Wilson's one-man magazine.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

You are what you tolerate

John Middlekauff recorded his 3-and-Out podcast shortly after Browns defensive end Myles Garrett ripped off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph's helmet and hit him in the head with it. Middlekauff thinks Garrett's behavior was a symptom of an overall lack of discipline on the Brows team. The Browns are the most penalized team in the league, which Middlekauff believes is a product of bad habits that aren't corrected in practices and carry over into games. Middlekauff repeated a quote he heard recently: "We are what we tolerate."

I don't know if this particular incident can be attributed to failures in the Browns organization or leadership, but I found the quote remarkable; if I had heard it before, I didn't take it to heart.

We are what we tolerate.

Toleration is often used in a political sense, as freedom from coercion, prohibition, or censorship. It suggests that something can be allowed even if it isn't welcomed, condoned or supported. Toleration says, "I might not like it, and the majority of us might not like it, we aren't willing to pay the cost to eliminate it."

Toleration, then, isn't the promotion of "diversity." Toleration doesn't take a stand on whether diversity is good, only that it's not worth opposing. Toleration may come from a moral commitment to individual freedom, or it may be the result of a pragmatic assessment of the burdens placed on law enforcement agents, courts, and prisons: better to leave the dope-smoker alone, to tolerate him, when there's a murderer on the loose.

Toleration isn't really about people or their actions at all, it's about priorities, and that's why it has a meaning beyond politics or how people are treated. Nobody who's accusing the Browns for lack of discipline are saying players who have bad habits should be fired, it is their habits that shouldn't be tolerated. If something is intolerable, termination or punishment isn't necessarily required; correction is often the first step.

That's why there are training periods in many kinds of employment. New hires are trained to meet a certain standard. For instance, post-training, the standard may be 90% efficiency. There may be monthly goals to increase efficiency, and the ideal is 100%. But the 10% inefficiency is tolerated; 11% efficiency is not.

The business is saying it can live with up to 10% inefficiency, and resources spent to raise that bar would mean fewer resources to meet other priorities. The business is what it tolerates. It tolerates inefficiency, but only up to a point.

The idea applies to individuals as well: You are what you tolerate.

That isn't a judgment of what should and shouldn't be tolerated. Everyone has their own priorities, preferences, and tastes. And I'm a big fan of the idea of counting one's blessings, of finding the good in every situation, of happiness and contentment regardless of circumstance.

But it could be useful to reflect on what one tolerates if one is dissatisfied with some aspects of life. For example, maybe your house is perpetually messy, and it bothers you, but you never feel you have the time or energy to clean.  Your priorities with your time and energy are elsewhere, which means you tolerate the mess.

But it may also be deeper than the mess itself: "Why don't I have the energy to clean? Why am I always too exhausted? Why do I have this low energy level?"

Other situations in life could lead to questions like:

  • "Why do I surround myself with people who don't respect me?"
  • "Why do I accept being paid less than what my work is worth?"
  • "Why do I tolerate unpleasant conditions in my life? Why do I feel like I don't deserve better?"

You are what you tolerate today, and you will be what you are tolerating tomorrow.

But you don't have to tolerate the same things.

And you don't have to be the same person.

James Leroy Wilson writes from Nebraska. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. If you find value in his articles, your support through Paypal helps keep him going. Permission to reprint is granted with attribution.

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