How Tolerance Can Help Us Cope With COVID-19

Boosting our compassion during this challenging time can help improve our stress levels and our overall well-being.

Solis Images/ Shutterstock
Solis Images/ Shutterstock

Frustration is a prevalent destructive emotion during Covid-19 and we need the right tools to mitigate it.

We are for the most part a highly intolerant bunch. Now more so then ever. Whenever things deviate from our expectation we get annoyed at others. At someone in our home who forgot to flush the toilet, at a neighbor who left home without wearing a mask, or at stimulus check that never arrived. The source of our frustration could be anything. That’s irrelevant. But the frustration we experience matters. It matters because we are all experiencing a whole lot more of it and we are not particularly good at handling it.

Frustration builds up and becomes anger. Anger then festers and becomes profound resentment. We disseminate frustration and anger through our behavior which in turn further stimulates more of that to go around. It’s a nerve-racking cycle and we have to find a way out of it.

We get frustrated when things don’t go our way. We are used to dealing with some level of frustration every day. Traffic, annoying people, unfair bosses, and any number of aggravations contribute to frustration. But Covid-19 has compounded that frustration to a whole new level. Now we are not only frustrated about the small things, but we are also terribly frustrated and impotent about the big thing too.

Think for example about social distancing. Who wants to be locked down at home without being able to see friends or family, without being able to feel like they are pressing on with our lives, and without school for kids? Nobody I know in their right mind would willfully choose this scenario. It’s something that was imposed on us and we hate it. It turns our stomachs but we can’t really afford to deal with the profound emotional ramifications of this. So what do we do? We bury ourselves in ice-cream, pizza, Netflix, and any other form of distraction that gets us through the days. But we are hurting. We pretend to be mature members of society, doing what’s right for the greater good, but deep down we don’t agree with it at our basest level. We hate it, we resent it and we want it to be done with. But there is no clear perspective for a definitive conclusion, and buried in this sewage of fast-food and fast-screens, we are angry.

But there’s no productive outlet for this anger. You will moderate it with family members in order not to instigate an endless Home War III, you will disguise it in interviews or zoom meetings with peers, and you will pretend that you are taking it one day at a time. But you are not. You are angry and it is festering. All this anger needs to get channeled in some way and the most effective way is through intolerance.

Your neighbors are now louder than ever before, people you know are meaner, society is stupider. The way we perceive our world has shifted. We can’t put our finger on it because it’s impossible for the observer and observed to become one. But our instinctive response to the Covid-19 challenge is to become less tolerant, not more so.

Let’s recap the key principle. Frustrated by the uncertainty, the lack of perspective, and our powerlessness, we become angry. And the anger finds an outlet in the intolerance towards self and others. But what we really need is compassion and tolerance towards self and others. How do we overcome our instincts and go down a different path?

1.We let go

As long as we are holding onto our expectations we are feeding the frustration. Whether it’s the expectation of when we will be able to travel again, how long we are going to live or how we will make rent. Expectations make us easy prey to frustration. Letting go of expectations is tricky business though because you don’t want to become an apathetic slob either. But it’s about being more in the now and less in the yesterday or the tomorrow. It’s cliche as nothing else, but when challenged by this level of uncertainty, take it one day at a time.

2. We look for openings and charge ahead

Letting go doesn’t mean surrendering our dreams or desires. It simply means to let go of those that stem from an incompatible moment in space-time. This will allow new ones to blossom. Sure maybe your travel plans are gone but maybe you can turn your attention to organizing your clothes. Maybe your job is done. Could be a great moment to consider a dramatic shift in lifestyle. The point is to look for those small crevices that open in your space-time continuum and charge forward at them with all you have. It’s the best way to both be productive, remind yourself that you still have some power of your life and to channel the anger into positive action.

3. We understand and we love

May seem obvious, but adversity stiffens us up. Our instinctive action is to become more rigid, tense, vigilant. Naturally love and other higher-order emotions get deprioritized. But now they are important as ever. It’s one thing to not argue with your spouse over not flushing the toilet because you can’t stand another argument. It’s a completely different thing to not argue with them because you understand and appreciate them. You give them the benefit of the doubt and realize there are countless things you do that may also upset them. When you realize that we are all flawed bothersome creatures, it’s easier to love yourself and consequently feel true compassion towards others.

Here are simple but enormously tough things to do.

  1. If you are about to criticize someone. Stop.
  2. If you are annoyed at something. Stop.
  3. If you are upset at something. Stop
  4. If you are worried. Stop.
  5. If you are feeling hopeless. Stop.

The list could go on and on, but you get the drift. The point is that we need to collectively stop this cycle of frustration and intolerance. It’s painful and terrible to admit. Tolerance requires a real sense of humility that few of us have nurtured over the course of our lives. It was already terrible before Covid-19 and now it’s only gotten worse. If there is a higher power out there, I imagine it is trying to teach us how to be better through hardship. Not worse because of it.

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