"Empathy leads us to tolerance, for only with empathy can we build bridges to others who seem so unlike us. Only with empathy can we reach out to people we initially want to push away because we imagine that in their brutality or their simplicity or their stupidity they are not like us. Empathy reminds us that the evil in others is a potential that we also carry within our own hearts. The capacity to hate, to exact revenge, to refuse forgiveness, even to take a life is in you as it is in me as it is in all human beings. That humbling realization and acceptance of our own shadow inevitably and unfailingly leads us to tolerance.
"Empathy allows us to see the connections between us, making strangers less strange, foreigners less foreign. When we adopt other people's perspectives, we do more than step into their shoes we use their eyes, we borrow their skin, we feel their hearts beating within us, we lose ourselves and enter into their world, as if we were them. I emphasize those words once again because they are so critically important and so often misunderstood. With empathy, we do not step into others' experience to see it with our eyes empathy demands that we see it with their eyes. Through that experience we are fundamentally changed, for we see with a sudden, startling clarity that we are the other. All the good and the bad that we see in them we can also recognize in ourselves. The hurt, the shame, the fear of humiliation, the desire for revenge these are as much parts of our own souls as the quest for honesty, the humble spirit, the forgiving heart.
"Tolerance begins with the willingness to listen. Listening with empathy means that you put yourself aside and enter the other person's experience. You are, literally, all ears. Tolerance also involves the ability to listen, which is not the same as the willingness to listen. Many people are willing listeners, but they interrupt, take off on tangents, offer advice, and pronounce judgments in other words, they cut off empathy through their untutored listening skills. Listening is an art that takes time, discipline, and practice.
"A third step in the process of developing tolerance is to look for extenuating circumstances, which means, simply, that we seek a broader understanding of other people's behaviors. When we can see the whole picture, rather than focusing in on one piece of it, we develop a more expansive range of emotional responses. Tolerance can be viewed as a way of understanding the 'extenuating circumstances' of other people's lives."
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