Disagree First, Then Tolerate

Culture at work can be defined as the invisible, unspoken, and unwritten norms that govern behavior. If norms are left invisible, unspoken, and unwritten by business leaders, the door is left open for employees and others to bring their own norms into a work culture. If those norms include the misunderstanding of tolerance, the fertile ground of strife and dissension is sown.

Here’s the truth: to tolerate something, you must first disagree with it. You don’t have to tolerate something or someone with which you agree. Agreement does not require tolerance; you agree!  Today, intolerance, the opposite of tolerance, has been coopted by the greater culture to mean someone who disagrees with another’s worldview or set of values. This is not only wrong, but it confounds those with contrary opinions, and, ultimately, polarizes those who disagree with one another to extreme and often unreconcilable positions.

To where does one go who disagrees with another, yet wishes to listen to and tolerate another’s position if shouted at as “intolerant?” I tend stay silent and harbor increasing levels of animosity toward those labeling me. Efforts to argue feel futile to me. What are your methods of coping with this dilemma? Do you lash out and join the crowds screaming at one another? Do you resort to the pen and post seething op eds on-line fueling the dissension between positions? All of these produce a profound dysfunction in what are intended to be productive relationships, even with those with whom we disagree. In the end, we grow further apart and polarized, or intolerant. Sounds like where we are as Americans now, doesn’t it? If we really want to grow closer to others, we must disagree first, then tolerate.

These dysfunctional tensions can rip apart a business environment and culture, or any community of persons. The key question is, “Can we create a culture where disagreement is welcome, setting the stage for tolerance of contrary opinions, where people can love one another, all while disagreeing?” Wouldn’t that be a nice change of pace?! How can we achieve this?

Business leaders must speak and go on record to invite disagreement. What?! How counter-cultural is this?! Yes, but remember that disagreement must precede tolerance. Are you ready to go on record at your business enterprise as one who encourages disagreement for the sake of tolerance and, ultimately, love at work or willing the good of the other therein? Did Jesus not model this during his ministry on earth? He’d disagree, then express love.

Don’t follow the greater culture who misunderstands what tolerance is. Seek to tolerate yet disagree first. You’ll start a movement of civil disagreement and set the stage for love at work. Loving at work requires working at love.

Dave Geenens

Dave Geenens

Dave Geenens is an Associate Professor and is the Assistant Director of the Thompson Center for Integrity in Finance and Economics in the School of Business at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. His over 30-years of executive experience in addition to his Bachelor’s Degree, MBA, and CPA license (inactive) add a realism to his research and teaching. Dave has written four books and speaks often on the integration of faith and work and the critical role Christian virtue plays in protecting free markets and liberty. Since Dave writes on multiple topics including investing and philanthropy, nothing in this article is to be construed as investment advice and any investment of any kind includes a risk of loss.