TED Conversations

Caroline Phillips

CEO/President, Entrepreneur & muscian


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What can we do, as citizens to promote tolerance in our daily lives ?

You're in a meeting. Someone tells a joke ... it's about a jew, a black guy, that pushy feminist, that gay guy... What do you do ?

You're waiting in line and you see someone ethnic/different being badly treated by a bank teller/government worker/cashier.

You're at a party where Dave, your friend's husband is gay-bashing again.

At school, you hear a kid use a racial epithet when yelling at another kid.

What kind of attitude do you adopt ?
If you do say something... what do you say ?
How can and does your behavior affect others ?

If you have stood up for the underdog and for tolerance, how did it affect your relationship with friends, clients, business partners or significant others ?

Tolerance ... definition :
"The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others."


Closing Statement from Caroline Phillips

Thank you all for your wonderful contributions to this conversation about Tolerance with a capital "T".

I've learned quite a bit from you and I think it's a wonderful testimony to the magic of TED that so many nationalities participated in this conversation. I feel a lot like Mary Saville : I too tend to get too emotional and engaged about intolerant things I'm hearing so I can produce the opposite effect and be too agressive and intolerant. I'll aspire to be more like Robert Jaffe when adressing intolerant people, to react swiftly but not humiliate.

Susan B. writes "Standing up for the underdog, does not make life happy for you. You are looked at as not being a team player, going against the norm and going against the grain."

My concluding thoughts : Unfortunately I don't live in a "TED world", so standing up for the underdog will often be a perilous endavour, but I'm willing to take the chance.

Hugs to all.

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    May 6 2011: In the case of children who show disrespect or insensitivity towards issues, people, etc., I feel it my obligation to take the moment to teach - a teachable moment to coin an overused phrase.
    How I react to a incident where someone - especially someone who is not yet an adult - has demonstrated a lack of respect or understanding is crucial to how I help to make the world a more respectful place to live and grow.
    How do I react? With honesty, concern, compassion and a willingness to spend the time to choose my words carefully so that I give that person every chance to change their paradigm.
    But I try to react the same way regardless of whether it is a child, an adolescent, a teen or an adult.
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      May 13 2011: Yep, I also believe that compassion is the key ... most of us are products of our education and family and it's difficult for some to "break the mold" and live outside the confortable bubble of belief.
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        May 13 2011: Caroline,

        While I think education and family are important factors for pro-social development, I think society itself is perhaps even more so.

        There is a contagion factor involved in many of our social behaviors, be they compassionate or not-so-much. (A recent piece I wrote on these themes: http://dynamicshift.org/archives/from-bipartisan-blame-to-civilized-change.)

        Though I agree it can, yes, be difficult to break out of familial and academic molds, it can be equally as hard for families and schools to break out of social/environmental molds and demands. It is very important, in my mind, to remember the macro culture within which our micro views are nurtured -- for good or bad.

        So Qs I think ought to be considered are: does the culture model and reward relational integrity or does it favor or harbor a sense of "Us v. Them" or an "I vs. We" attitude or insecurity that foments competitive ill-will?

        Indeed, the reflections elicited by your question are a wonderful example of how a much wider community can impact very personal thinking -- in this case: through compassion-engaging and co-constructive conversation.

        • May 14 2011: "So Qs I think ought to be considered are: does the culture model and reward relational integrity or does it favor or harbor a sense of "Us v. Them" or an "I vs. We" attitude or insecurity that foments competitive ill-will? "

          This is why I, as an outsider, am dismayed at the extreme polarization I see in US politics - I, rightly or wrongly, often get the sense of a visceral hatred of the other side. One can argue that it is just rhetoric, but it has been repeatedly observed in this discussion - model what you wish to see in your society.

          And yes, I am also concerned by the polarization I see here at home in our politics, and the degree of personal, negative advertising in our recent elections.
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        May 16 2011: John,

        A focus of my work has me looking at issues of political polarization. I agree with you it is extreme and dismaying, particularly in the US. As you point out, hate communications go beyond rhetoric to impulsive reactivity. Increasingly so, it seems.

        Nonetheless, cultural differences around rhetoric are notable. From discussions I have with people from developing democracies, it seems to me cultural polarization in Western societies has much to do with what might be called a "high-tell" attitude, perhaps promoted even by freedom of speech liberties.

        Where personal freedoms are less evident, so are dissenting voices. And thus, is seems, less “need” for bully-rhetoric. The threat is either implied by forces of power or discourse is absent due to lack of venues (like democratic processes or public media).

        In any case, it seems the US, at least, has taken the concept of voice beyond using ones rhetoric for civil progress to using rhetoric to satiate individual desires or impulses--whether to deflect blame, achieve personal gain, garner public attention or just to vent blindly. The concept of any PR is good PR seems to prevail for many. More troubling, beneath this there seems to be a loss of personal responsibility for what one does or says.

        I think the political cure could be a cultural uprising against rage-rhetoric. ie: citizens collectively calling out leaders who model polarizing tactics. Frustration may be what it takes for people to demand co-productive leadership.

        In my mind, citizens are a critical part of this Us/We attitude . And must actively change society by intentionally naming and, as you say, modeling civil discourse, too.

        I encountered a similar challenge in another TED Conversation. Though politics wasn't the main theme, interesting culture change emerged when discourse devolved. The fix took some doing, but tthe lessons were useful: http://www.ted.com/conversations/2413/part_ii_when_how_and_why_hav.html

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          May 18 2011: I agree with you, Ms. Walstrom. Political polarization in the U.S., of a kind probably unseen since the nineteenth century, is the most problematic issue we have to deal with today. Far more so, in my opinion, than any of the economic or foreign policy crises which, according to some, are quite serious indeed. I've read your and other people's proposed remedies without being convinced. All such remedies seem to me to rely on a willingness to change on the part of those who are the moving forces behind such polarization. Quite a number of the principal villains in this regard have a very large personal stake in maintaining or even worsening the present problematic situation. It permits the exteriorisation of group hate and anger (very pleasant and even exciting to some) and promotes the political and financial success of others. Conspiracy thinking, which to my mind forms a substantial part of the problem, is probably ineradicable from a psychological point of view. I would love to hear suggestions of solutions that deal realistically with the vested interest many appear to have in polarization.
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        May 19 2011: Mr. Jaffe,

        I agree with you that those whose interests (or impulses) are served via polarization are unlikely to willingly change their ways.

        However, I'm not sure these times are any less brutal than others we've come through. People involved in the Civil Rights movement speak to quite bloody political battles. I suggest there are lessons we can learn from the movements that resulted in societal sea changes then. Many of these led to distributive justice and legislative cures for rhetoric-inspired discrimination.

        The answer to conspiratorial thinking and (McCarthyism is an example from those times) political brutishness is something like large scale light-shiing. The balance can only be achieved with equally passionate counter messengers. In the case of the Civil Rights movement, these were blacks, women and other marginalized groups organized around parallel and interconnected causes.

        In a sense, the solution is a "numbers" games. To outlast the considerable energies the defense of money and power can harness, compounded counter-energies must be catalyzed with many (if not more) players involved persistently calling out intolerance and inequities.

        To be clear, though the Civil Rights movement provides a model, a modern tolerance movement can't seek only policy fixes. With some exceptions, we have much in place already. Clearly, (and you get to this in another comment) threat of exposure, rules or regulations aren't enough.

        Todays solutions, then. must answer the core of your comment: How can civility pay off for those driven by power and money? One possible answer: when it is provocative enough to capture media and culture attention. Which requires taking action via all venues possible. The point is to redirect polarizing rhetoric with many more and different, examples of the opposite that speak to the self-interests of all. Polarizers will always exist, but they do tend to lose steam when "filibustered" by collective rhetoric.


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