Dr. Grauer's Column - Tolerance in Six Seconds
Tolerance in Six Seconds
The 15th Annual Grauer School Tolerance Day
Keynote Address by Dr. Grauer
When I was in junior high school, I left my bicycle on the field one day and went back to get it but it was gone. My mind started clicking through the various possibilities and I quickly realized that there were a certain few kids who were capable of running off with that sort of thing. I could just picture any one of them hopping on and dashing away to some other part of town, with a devious glare. I knew their type.
I realize that it was somewhat my fault, but something about that group of kids bugged me, and in my mind I began plotting out various ways of dealing with them: all the things I would say. I could confront them directly, or their parents, or a teacher. Should I get in a fight? The plotting consumed me for a little bit, as I conjured up their meanness and otherness.
Everyone has dark rhapsodies, and I was having them now. Swirls of vengeance overtook my mind. Would I get them punished, just say snarky things about them, or maybe plot out some little way to get even with them?
The lure of punishing evil doers is a powerful one for the human mind, and I could have never known at the time that the main evil at this point was inside my own head.
Today, I have learned two things: First, that these impulses are common—we can all be quick blamers. And second, when we catch these impulses rising up in our mind, they can be wake up calls. The gold standard for great and kind and happy people is the ability to catch our minds spiraling off into vengeance; to note quickly when we are jumping right into the dark side, burrowing into the dark well of theories of the badness of others. Everyone has a shadow side, but not everyone knows it or recognizes it when it appears.
For our intolerant selves, there is us, the good ones, and there is them, the people we trash in those weak moments. Maybe we crack cruel jokes about them, slipping through the cracks of tolerance--the followers around us pathetically go along with us to make us feel better. Worse yet, today, things can cascade into the wild, humiliating and even life changing when combined with the hair trigger impulse to campaign them on social media so as to be liked or “hearted”—then our post can be passed along out of control as our victim watches helplessly, humiliated, isolated. We have thought the worst,
we have moved into a place of heartlessness.
And that can ruin reputations and cause horrific unhappiness. We want to teach someone a lesson, show our righteousness, and we enter the social media house of mirroring, ricocheting blame.
My point is simple: Intolerance is not the big and obvious thing we often think—it is the tiniest. Intolerance does not originate in our thought or action. Intolerance is just that tiny little impulse we feel, a snap judgement that you can barely sense when you first feel it.
You could recognize that little impulse for what it is, but you don’t, and so you follow it. Someone has done this thing to me, or that. They no longer deserve my friendship, or my love or trust. This is experienced as a tiny emotion that we can actually feel and that, unfortunately, we follow.
The human is quick to blame. Psychologists have long concluded that people tend to judge others most harshly for their negative actions—humans assign fault and blame more often than they hand out praise or accolades. And we even know why people blame before they praise. It turns out that the labels of blame and praise are processed in completely different parts of the brain.
Praise comes from a logical spot, it is a mental, thinking impulse in the brain.
But not blame. Blame comes from a very emotional, feeling place.
We are wronged, and we feel anger or resentment or pain or blame.
When I got back to class, I saw my shiny bicycle right there outside the classroom, leaning against the wall. One of the boys I had been "going off about" in my mind was standing there and he said, “Hey you left your bike out there so I brought it in for you. I thought someone might steal it or something.”
I should have felt relief, and appreciation for this classmate, but the truth is I mainly felt humiliation. I faked a laugh and gave a quick thanks like nothing had happened, like my mind had not taken that wild detour. I was in junior high.
They say that holding anger for another person inside of you is like drinking poison and thinking it will kill someone else. When we follow that tiny emotional impulse to blame, our judgement of others, even if they have done nothing wrong, creates a shift in our own minds. It turns out, we don’t even need to drink the poison. Blame and anger cause our amygdala, deep in our brain, to release a stress hormone called cortisol, and it impairs our ability to think straight and to remember things accurately.
It turns out the difference between kindness and cruelty is around six seconds. Waiting just six seconds before following that first, little impulse can cause it to go away, and we can laugh at ourselves for ever wanting to chase it, and we often can feel love and kindness for the very people we are ready to hate or scorn.
In six seconds, we can choose to think with our heart or with our brain… or with the beautiful dance they do together.
Every single act we take can make us smaller, more petty, more egotistical, more stressed out, more unhappy, or it can make us more great, bring us closer to peace and a big-hearted mind. When we actually hear that split-second impulse, and when we feel this emotion, the most important thing we are learning is not only how to make others feel less weird and less alone, but our own selves.
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