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Written by Nadia

Relationships come in all kinds. We’re all connected whether we want to be or not, whether we’re aware of it or not. And whether these invisible ties between us are strong or frayed or thin, when we see one person reacting towards another, there’s recognition.

Recognition.  That’s where it all starts. It’s neutral ground. But then, with a little more attention, it becomes something else: tolerance.

What is tolerance? It’s the willingness to accept what lies in front of you. Remember the whole “don’t be a bystander” thing we talk about in school?

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That’s tolerance.

Tolerance can be defined as endurance, or a sleepy kind of recognition. It’s where all you believe you have in common with someone else in the situation is the place and time. You let it go, even if what you saw was a terrible injustice, with the excuse that “it’s none of my business.” And that’s that.

What can you add to tolerance to strengthen that connection between you and others? You find something in common. You start to feel for them, understand them.  Your heart reaches out to them and you silently give them your strength. That’s when your tolerance becomes empathy.

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Empathy is defined as acceptance with the addition of understanding. Whereas tolerance is the acknowledgement of others’ existence, empathy is acknowledgment with some sort of connection to that existence.

If you want to build on tolerance even more, try going from understanding to action. Compassion is the expression of connection in the physical world. It’s where you’d speak out for the person you believe in, or alert them and others to your connection. Compassion is where your empathy is so great that it compels you to act.

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Compassion builds on empathy, which builds on tolerance. It builds up, step by step, to connection. When you think about it all together, it makes sense, doesn’t it?

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This progression is what we all strive for. We tell ourselves to be compassionate, to stand up for others who face injustice, to be someone’s hero in any small way we can.

That’s what we wish for. But what actually occurs?

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What happens if you look at tolerance, and instead of adding some aspect of connection to it, you take something away?

Let’s return to tolerance. Tolerance is permissive action towards others’ lives, endurance of ideas. What would happen if we took away that endurance?

Tolerance would become intolerance.

Intolerance- the refusal to respect beliefs or pieces of another’s existence. Intolerance means you stop being the bystander and start thinking like the bully.

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But that’s not the farthest you could go. Intolerance is the inability to endure another’s differences. It’s similar to empathy, in that regard: you’re thinking about the situation someone else is in.

Intolerance is thinking about the situation, so there must be another step down, just like compassion is a step up from empathy.

Compassion is where your empathy compels you to act. Discrimination is where your intolerance compels you to act.

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Discrimination is the negative action of singling out another individual and, instead of establishing connection, establishing differences in a hurtful manner. That’s when you really become the oppressor, the bully in place of the bystander. And unfortunately, oppressors can be born the second discrimination takes hold.

So you could think of this progression as a second ladder, one leading downwards. Tolerance without acceptance is intolerance, and intolerance without restraint is discrimination.

But one could also try looking at it this way: are intolerance and empathy simply enhanced branches of tolerance? Is tolerance the crossroads between connection and separation?

Intolerance, like empathy, is the forming of an opinion. Discrimination, like compassion, is acting on your opinion.

How bizarre- intolerance is so similar to empathy, discrimination so similar to compassion. The only real difference is whether or not the individual believes in connection.

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We all have the power to connect to one another, it is simply the matter of looking hard enough. Our invisible ties grow stronger or weaker depending on our own willingness to search.