On the benefits of intolerance

On matters of style, swim with the current; on matters of principle, stand like a rock. ~ Thomas Jefferson

Image source: 8womendream.com

I was told last week (by one of my colleagues) that I needed to be more tolerant. When she said this, I didn’t really pay much attention to it, and it was only when the words composted in my brain, that it hit me. I strongly disagreed with this piece of advice. Because what she meant (and to be fair, she did have my best interests at heart) is that I needed to be better at keeping my thoughts and opinions to myself. I needed to go along to get along. I shouldn’t ruffle feathers or rock the boat. I needed to be more tolerant of the shortcomings of my managers and leaders.

I beg to differ though, because tolerance – or rather, keeping quiet when one should speak up – is why our workplaces are in the sorry state they are in. People keep quiet way too much. Workers are much too tolerant, and workplaces themselves suffer.

And I blame casualisation of the workforce to a certain extent, and the inbuilt imbalance of power structures in the workplace. People are less likely to want to speak up about poor work practices if they are worried they will lose their jobs (or there is an implied threat of contract non-renewal). And I completely understand. I have always been one to speak my mind (regardless of employment status), but I must admit, knowing I am a permanent public servant has increased my forthrightness. I might not do my career (such that it is) any good, but at least I can sleep at night. I refuse to tolerate crap.

I see so many people though, tolerating bullying, harassment, bad management, unsafe work conditions, dysfunctional teams and they all have their own reasons for doing so. I make no judgement. A paycheck is a powerful incentive for keeping quiet. But I am amazed at how many people say to me: “I admire you for speaking up. I wish I could do that.” The thing is: I can’t not. It is part of my genetic makeup – my DNA – to not let things slide. If I see something that is not right, I have to say something. If I see an injustice or bad practices in the workplace – whether it’s to myself or others – I can’t just stand by. I am intolerant.

And if that means sacrificing my career for peace of mind, so be it. I shall wear my intolerance as a badge of honour.


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0 thoughts on “On the benefits of intolerance

  1. That is just so, so true, Diane, good on you for pointing it out AND in your workplace, speaking up and making a change and things happen. When many of us are less confident and just tend to keep the peace. You go girl!

  2. Diane, this post is so relevant to what we are talking about in my profession right now. Good on you for being outspoken and ‘deviant’. It is people like you who keep humanity on an even keel and more humane. Thank you.

  3. I remember a colleague calling my bolshy way way back before I had any idea what it meant. I probably still am to some extent and it hasn’t always done me favours but it makes me feel better because I hate injustice.

  4. Given what Milgram, Zimbardo etc have discovered about human nature, it seems perhaps impossible for organisations to act with true integrity and welcome dissenting voices unless those at the top are wanting such an organisation and are personally incredibly mindful and reflective with highly developed social and emotional intelligence. What do you think?

    1. You are right, Carolyn. It is only when the leadership of the organisation truly values (and shows that they value) dissenting voices that it will actually happen. In my experience, most leaders shun any sort of reality check and tend to surround themselves with sycophants and yes people. And that’s part risk management, part ego. The fish always rots from the head down.

  5. Another fascinating aspect is how most people don’t tell leaders the truth. The most ‘fun’ example of that phenomenon is the Emporer’s New Clothes story. Leaders often don’t realise they are not getting the ‘truth’ they are getting what people think they want to hear. Unless leaders are the sort who go to where the people are and hang out and talk with them, they are fed a processed version of reality. Then everyone suffers eventually. Not sure why the underlings feel like they can’t say what’s really happening – did you ever watch “Yes Minister” ? The world is full of Humphrey’s.

    1. Culture (and subcultures in an organisation) is a very strong factor in all of this. People “see” who gets ahead & emulate that behaviour. They also see who is “punished” for not acquiescing to cultural norms. So they conform in the interests of their own career. Many leaders do not actively manage culture. Or they don’t understand how to manage it and leave it to chance.

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