Read CHAPTER VII. Tolerance of As a Matter of Course, free online book, by Annie Payson Call, on

When we are tolerant as a matter of course, the nervous system is relieved of almost the worst form of persistent irritation it could have.

The freedom of tolerance can only be appreciated by those who have known the suffering of intolerance and gained relief.

A certain perspective is necessary to a recognition of the full absurdity of intolerance.  One of the greatest absurdities of it is evident when we are annoyed and caused intense suffering by our intolerance of others, and, as a consequence, blame others for the fatigue or illness which follows.  However mistaken or blind other people may be in their habits or their ideas, it is entirely our fault if we are annoyed by them.  The slightest blame given to another in such a case, on account of our suffering, is quite out of place.

Our intolerance is often unconscious.  It is disguised under one form of annoyance or another, but when looked full in the face, it can only be recognized as intolerance.

Of course, the most severe form is when the belief, the action, or habit of another interferes directly with our own selfish aims.  That brings the double annoyance of being thwarted and of rousing more selfish antagonism.

Where our selfish desires are directly interfered with, or even where an action which we know to be entirely right is prevented, intolerance only makes matters worse.  If expressed, it probably rouses bitter feelings in another.  Whether we express it openly or not, it keeps us in a state of nervous irritation which is often most painful in its results.  Such irritation, if not extreme in its effect, is strong enough to keep any amount of pure enjoyment out of life.

There may be some one who rouses our intolerant feelings, and who may have many good points which might give us real pleasure and profit; but they all go for nothing before our blind, restless intolerance.

It is often the case that this imaginary enemy is found to be a friend and ally in reality, if we once drop the wretched state of intolerance long enough to see him clearly.

Yet the promptest answer to such an assertion will probably be, “That may be so in some cases, but not with the man or woman who rouses my intolerance.”

It is a powerful temptation, this one of intolerance, and takes hold of strong natures; it frequently rouses tremendous tempests before it can be recognized and ignored.  And with the tempest comes an obstinate refusal to call it by its right name, and a resentment towards others for rousing in us what should not have been there to be roused.

So long as a tendency to anything evil is in us, it is a good thing to have it roused, recognized, and shaken off; and we might as reasonably blame a rock, over which we stumble, for the bruises received, as blame the person who rouses our intolerance for the suffering we endure.

This intolerance, which is so useless, seems strangely absurd when it is roused through some interference with our own plans; but it is stranger when we are rampant against a belief which does not in any way interfere with us.

This last form is more prevalent in antagonistic religious beliefs than in anything else.  The excuse given would be an earnest desire for the salvation of our opponent.  But who ever saved a soul through an ungracious intolerance of that soul’s chosen way of believing or living?  The danger of loss would seem to be all on the other side.

One’s sense of humor is touched, in spite of one’s self, to hear a war of words and feeling between two Christians whose belief is supposed to be founded on the axiom, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Without this intolerance, argument is interesting, and often profitable.  With it, the disputants gain each a more obstinate belief in his own doctrines; and the excitement is steadily destructive to the best health of the nervous system.

Again, there is the intolerance felt from various little ways and habits of others, ­habits which are comparatively nothing in themselves, but which are monstrous in their effect upon a person who is intolerant of them.

One might almost think we enjoyed irritated nerves, so persistently do we dwell upon the personal peculiarities of others.  Indeed, there is no better example of biting off one’s own nose than the habit of intolerance.  It might more truly be called the habit of irritating one’s own nervous system.

Having recognized intolerance as intolerance, having estimated it at its true worth, the next question is, how to get rid of it.  The habit has, not infrequently, made such a strong brain-impression that, in spite of an earnest desire to shake it off, it persistently clings.

Of course, the soil about the obnoxious growth is loosened the moment we recognize its true quality.  That is a beginning, and the rest is easier than might be imagined by those who have not tried it.

Intolerance is an unwillingness that others should live in their own way, believe as they prefer to, hold personal habits which they enjoy or are unconscious of, or interfere in any degree with our ways, beliefs, or habits.

That very sense of unwillingness causes a contraction of the nerves which is wasteful and disagreeable.  The feeling rouses the contraction, the contraction more feeling; and so the Intolerance is increased in cause and in effect.  The immediate effect of being willing, on the contrary, is, of course, the relaxation of such contraction, and a healthy expansion of the nerves.

Try the experiment on some small pet form of intolerance.  Try to realize what it is to feel quite willing.  Say over and over to yourself that you are quite willing So-and-so should make that curious noise with his mouth.  Do not hesitate at the simplicity of saying the words to yourself; that brings a much quicker effect at first.  By and by we get accustomed to the sensation of willingness, and can recall it with less repetition of words, or without words at all.  When the feeling of nervous annoyance is roused by the other, counteract it on the instant by repeating silently:  “I am quite willing you should do that, ­do it again.”  The man or woman, whoever he or she may be, is quite certain to oblige you!  There will be any number of opportunities to be willing, until by and by the willingness is a matter of course, and it would not be surprising if the habit passed entirely unnoticed, as far as you are concerned.

This experiment tried successfully on small things can be carried to greater.  If steadily persisted in, a good fifty per cent of wasted nervous force can be saved for better things; and this saving of nervous force is the least gain which comes from a thorough riddance of every form of intolerance.

“But,” it will be objected, “how can I say I am willing when I am not?”

Surely you can see no good from the irritation of unwillingness; there can be no real gain from it, and there is every reason for giving it up.  A clear realization of the necessity for willingness, both for our own comfort and for that of others, helps us to its repetition in words.  The words said with sincere purpose, help us to the feeling, and so we come steadily into clearer light.

Our very willingness that a friend should go the wrong way, if he chooses, gives us new power to help him towards the right.  If we are moved by intolerance, that is selfishness; with it will come the desire to force our friend into the way which we consider right.  Such forcing, if even apparently successful, invariably produces a reaction on the friend’s part, and disappointment and chagrin on our own.

The fact that most great reformers were and are actuated by the very spirit of intolerance, makes that scorning of the ways of others seem to us essential as the root of all great reform.  Amidst the necessity for and strength in the reform, the petty spirit of intolerance intrudes unnoticed.  But if any one wants to see it in full-fledged power, let him study the family of a reformer who have inherited the intolerance of his nature without the work to which it was applied.

This intolerant spirit is not indispensable to great reforms; but it sometimes goes with them, and is made use of, as intense selfishness may often be used, for higher ends.  The ends might have been accomplished more rapidly and more effectually with less selfish instruments.  But man must be left free, and if he will not offer himself as an open channel to his highest impulses, he is used to the best advantage possible without them.

There is no finer type of a great reformer than Jesus Christ; in his life there was no shadow of intolerance.  From first to last, he showed willingness in spirit and in action.  In upbraiding the Scribes and Pharisees he evinced no feeling of antagonism; he merely stated the facts.  The same firm calm truth of assertion, carried out in action, characterized his expulsion of the money-changers from the temple.  When he was arrested, and throughout his trial and execution, it was his accusers who showed the intolerance; they sent out with swords and staves to take him, with a show of antagonism which failed to affect him in the slightest degree.

Who cannot see that, with the irritated feeling of intolerance, we put ourselves on the plane of the very habit or action we are so vigorously condemning?  We are inviting greater mistakes on our part.  For often the rouser of our selfish antagonism is quite blind to his deficiencies, and unless he is broader in his way than we are in ours, any show of intolerance simply blinds him the more.  Intolerance, through its indulgence, has come to assume a monstrous form.  It interferes with all pleasure in life; it makes clear, open intercourse with others impossible; it interferes with any form of use into which it is permitted to intrude.  In its indulgence it is a monstrosity, ­in itself it is mean, petty, and absurd.

Let us then work with all possible rapidity to relax from contractions of unwillingness, and become tolerant as a matter of course.

Whatever is the plan of creation, we cannot improve it through any antagonistic feeling of our own against creatures or circumstances.  Through a quiet, gentle tolerance we leave ourselves free to be carried by the laws.  Truth is greater than we are, and if we can be the means of righting any wrong, it is by giving up the presumption that we can carry truth, and by standing free and ready to let truth carry us.

The same willingness that is practised in relation to persons will be found equally effective in relation to the circumstances of life, from the losing of a train to matters far greater and more important.  There is as much intolerance to be dropped in our relations to various happenings as in our relations to persons; and the relief to our nerves is just as great, perhaps even greater.

It seems to be clear that heretofore we have not realized either the relief or the strength of an entire willingness that people and things should progress in their own way.  How can we ever gain freedom whilst we are entangled in the contractions of intolerance?

Freedom and a healthy nervous system are synonymous; we cannot have one without the other.