Tolerating People vs. Needing Them

Do you grit your teeth a lot in the presence of disagreeable people? Are you holding in your anger and judgment for when you can be alone and let out a sigh or a scream? You certainly aren’t alone in your frustration. But consider this. The bane of your existence—the back-stabbing co-worker, the parking lot blue space bully, the toxic relative that tells you to suck it up and try to act happy—are among the people you need to grow your confidence and well-being. Think I’m full of it? Okay, maybe I am. But let’s explore this a bit further.

Do you have realistic expectations of others?

In an article by David K. William titled “How Smart People Deal with People They Don’t Like,” the author points out that in a perfect world, every person in it is the kind that speaks my language, my thoughts, totally gets my humor, and shares my take on the world. But it isn’t and they don’t. It made me think about my penchant for self-isolation and the behaviors that has created in me. When I get consumed with arrogant disgust of those humorless, tunnel-vision-riddled souls I despise, should I then unplug and dig myself deep inside a concrete bunker, only venturing forth for supplies and the latest box set of outtakes from season 12 of THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON? I could, but soon I’d start picking fights with myself for something new to do. Why?

  • Because I have needs, and one of them is to challenge myself, have something to push against so I can reacquaint myself with myself and check in with what I now want to accomplish. If my goals have changed then I’ve probably changed, too—and change is good.
  • Because I can only get a sharper sense of what I believe from bouncing off people who do not share my position. A good example is my position on abortion rights. Though I am and always will be pro-choice, I also realize that the arguments on both sides fall far short of addressing the full complexity of the issue. All I can do is carefully listen to my opponents, note the shortcomings they see in my position, and acknowledge what is valid in theirs.

Challenge means I should act counter-intuitively and seek out those reviled souls that, according to a hillside speech delivered by a New Testament carpenter, are the very ones we should love the hardest and deepest of all. Crazy? Yep, like a fox. If you are an atheist like I am, you could think of it as one of the first TED talks. It’s always been a hard sell, but the message still rings true. It’s a lot easier to say love thy neighbor as thyself than to actually do it. The next six points might help clear things up.

How could I possibly need the very people that make my blood pressure spike?

In his article “The 6 Human Needs,” Life coach Stephane Allinquant lists those as being:

  1. Certainty: The need to feel safe; the need for predictability.
  2. Significance: The need to feel important, accomplished, special, and unique.
  3. Variety/Uncertainty: The need to feel different, challenged, at risk, entertained, and surprised.
  4. Connection/Love: The need to feel passion, unity, warmth, desire and love in our lives.
  5. Growth: The need to feel like we are developing, learning, and cultivating ourselves.
  6. Contribution: The need to feel like we are giving, leaving our mark, serving others.

Okay, so there’s really nothing new there, right? You already know all this because you consider yourself fully engaged in 21st-century civilized society. Except that we are not. We pay more attention to Certainty, Significance, and Love, and we do it by segregating ourselves in enclaves of people that look, sound, live, and behave like us. By this act, we neglect Variety, Growth and Contribution.

Likewise, when we isolate ourselves from everyone else because of illness, age, poverty, and the discrimination those can yield, we might feel safe and prefer the peace it brings, but we are also hastening an early decline.

Conflict provides me with the necessary challenges that make me think in new ways. When it works, it’s because I can listen to an evangelical fundamentalist without needing to challenge them with contradictory scripture, or insisting on proof of god’s existence. I dropped that some time ago after realizing that believers don’t need proof. They’ve got faith. Only non-believers agonize over proof. It’s kind of silly if you think about it.

It’s been so hard for me to accept a core truth: We who are more challenged by adversity must have ourselves together better than everybody else. It is up to us to set the example for how we want others to behave towards us. If I want people to listen to me then I must be a good listener. If I want people to be calm and non-judgmental then I must become the poster child of calmness and non-judgment.

I’m still practicing.

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