Tolerance and Success

Interpersonal competence is one of the keys to personal and professional success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success.  If you want to become interpersonally competent, you need to do three things.  First, get to know yourself.  Use this self knowledge to better understand and communicate with others.  Second, build solid, long lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with the important people in our life.  Third, learn how to resolve conflict positively and in a manner that enhances, not detracts from your relationships. 

I just finished reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  I read it for two reasons.  First, I am a big fan of Mr. Alexie.  Second, I saw that it was on a list of books that most often gets called into question by the book banning crowd – and I always make a point of reading books that anybody want to ban.  I found The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to be a touching coming of age story that deals with one of the major problems facing Native Americans — alcoholism.  I don’t see what anyone could question about this book.  But I am a big believer in free speech.

But that’s not the reason for bring up The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian here.  I found some great stuff about interpersonal competence on page 155.  Junior, a teenager on the Wellpinit Reservation in Washington State and the book’s narrator, is talking about his grandmother…

“And, yeah, my grandmother was smart and kind and had traveled to about 100 different Indian reservations, but that had nothing to do with her greatness. 

“My grandmother’s greatest gift was tolerance…

“She still hung on to that old-time Indian spirit, you know?  She always approached each new person and each experience the exact same way…

“Whenever we went to Spokane, my grandmother would talk to anybody, even the homeless people, even the homeless guys who were talking to invisible people…

“My grandmother’s last act on earth was a call for forgiveness, love and tolerance.  She wanted us to forgive Gerald, the dumb-ass Spokane Indian alcoholic who ran over and killed her.

“I think my dad wanted to go find Gerald and beat him to death.  I think my mother would have helped him.  I think I would have helped him, too. 

“But my grandmother wanted us to forgive her murderer.  Even dead, she was a better person than us.”

Junior’s grandmother was a good person – largely because of her forgiveness, love and tolerance.

Tolerance is key to becoming interpersonally competent.  Unfortunately, most of us are not raised to be tolerant people.  When I was a little guy, attending Saint Stanislaus elementary school in Ambridge PA, the nuns would tell us not to associate with kids who weren’t Catholic.  Being the kid I was, I went out of my way to make friends with the Protestant and Jewish kids in my neighborhood.  And guess what; their religious studies teachers told them to stay away from Catholics!  Boy, was I surprised.  Safe to say that tolerance wasn’t highly valued in my home town.

I think the world is becoming more tolerant, but I’m not sure.  I hope so.

Whether or not the world is becoming more tolerant, tolerance is a hallmark of interpersonally competent people.  On Tuesday, I did a post on responding with tolerance to rude behavior.  In that post, I made the point that being tolerant will mark you as someone who creates positive personal impact.  It also marks you as an interpersonally competent person.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people are interpersonally competent.  Interpersonally competent people are tolerant.  They treat everyone they meet with respect and dignity.  Tolerant people realize that human differences are opportunities for learning and growth and make the most of these opportunities.  Intolerant people fear these differences – and therefore miss many fantastic opportunities to see the world from a different perspective.  It’s up to you to choose – tolerance and learning, or intolerance and isolation.

That’s my take on tolerance and interpersonal competence.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  As always, thanks for reading.


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  1. Bud,
    Unfortunately I feel the world is becoming less tolerant. Albert Einstein said, “in order that every man present his views without penalty there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population.” I don’t see that spirit of tolerance here in the USA; rather, it appears that more are intolerant of other views and attack (verbally or physically) those with whom they do not agree. For instance take the recent Miss California “news”. This woman was attacked and belittled by many because of her opinion stated during a beauty pagent. Of course those who agreed with her proceeded to return the attack against those attacking her.
    This reminds me of the parents’response in the story from Mr. Alexie. We need more grandmothers (and parents, brothers, sisters, columnists, newscasters, etc.) like Junior’s grandmother.
    I join with you in the hope of greater tolerance! Thanks for another thought-provoking post and the book recommendation.

  2. Ben:
    Thanks for your comment. I agree that we need more people like Junior’s Grandmother. I think we all need to learn from Junior’s Grandmother too.
    And you’re right, the Miss California situation is awful. I don’t agree with what she had to say, but I think that the treatment she has received because she said it is deplorable.
    Thanks again for a thought provoking comment.
    Have a great weekend.

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