Just how tolerant should I try to be?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

tolerantThe British live in a curiously tolerant country – one which allows a range of values, views about life, and philosophical and political belief. But one thing for which people are not tolerant is intolerance! For example an intolerant attitude towards diversity is associated in the public mind with being discriminatory, moralistic and rejecting.

And so to criticise the sex industry runs the risk of condemning prostitutes. To complain about levels of immigration is to be thought of as racist. To argue against the introduction of gay marriage is seen as homophobia.

Judgmental attitude

In one sense this idea of being tolerant is not new. Jesus Christ could be said to have exemplified it by spending time with those whose lifestyles were outside the accepted morality of his day, the tax collectors, and so on. His tolerant conduct illustrates the idea of accepting others for what they are rather than acting with social prejudice.

‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged.’ (Matt 7:1)

But ‘turning the other cheek’ and treating people who offend our values and susceptibilities with forbearance and indulgence sometimes feels a step too far. For example the value of peace and quiet in one’s neighbourhood may suit some but others may prefer a livelier scene with loud music blaring from the local pub or party goers having a good time in the street.

Limits to being tolerant

Are there no limits to being tolerant? When we stop and reflect then of course we realise there must be limits if society is to hold together. If the police in a neighbourhood tolerated robbery and violence without any attempt to arrest criminals, then chaos would ensue. Any political authority tolerating such a state of affairs would stand accused of a complete lack of compassion for the plight of innocent victims.

However there are numerous occasions when no law is broken yet those with views about what is right and wrong feel that being tolerant can merge into permissiveness or naivety. Some people want to stand up for what they feel is right but can be accused of intolerance when they do so.

How tolerant should we be of unsolicited telephone calls from call centres trying to sell unwanted things, of cyclists riding on busy pavements endangering parents with small children, of intimidating groups of youths hanging around street corners, of a sports crowd using foul language in the presence of children, or of an old driver slowly driving along a single lane road holding up a long line of traffic.

Voicing criticism

I would suggest it is possible to stand up for what one believes by voicing criticism provided this is done in a social skilled manner. Knowing how to differentiate between the behaviour one wants to complain about and the person who is giving offence is part of the answer. It is a real challenge is to try to recognize one’s unsympathetic and over-critical mindset and learn to tolerate people who anger you by disliking what they do rather than the people themselves.

But how is criticism expressed? When someone gets on their high horse their criticism sounds like they are putting down the other person. This is the mark of an intolerant attitude. Some of us are better than others in voicing criticism using wit and good humour without appearing to dominate.

Charitable attitude

I believe the core of an intolerant attitude is an uncharitable attitude. This can be recognised as a narrow mind and unsympathetic feeling. It is shown by jumping to conclusions about someone because of a desire to find fault: not bothering to look for mitigating circumstances that could partly excuse someone’s actions: and failing to look for the good rather than the bad in the person about whom you are prejudiced.

There probably is not much more likely to cause intolerant anger than matters of religious belief. Witness the hatred and violence of two branches of Christianity in 17th century England. And so I was delighted when holidaying in Monmouthshire recently to came across a beautiful small Moravian chapel near Tintern Abbey which had a notice saying

“In things essential – unity,
In non-essentials – liberty
In all things — charity”

It is charitable to remember that what appears to be right to you may be seen differently by others. And that by allowing others to do things of which you disapprove doesn’t mean you are saying they are acting in line with what you want and think is right.

I would ike to say a charitable attitude is no use if exercised unwisely. What behaviour in others to tolerate depends on one’s good sense as well as one’s charitable attitude. If this is true then don’t give a drunk money to spend on booze: don’t tolerate abusive behaviour from a family member: don’t allow the children to manipulate you.

Copyright 2012 Stephen Russell-LacyAuthor of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems



Posted on9th August 2012CategoriesEthics, Interpersonal EthicsTags, , , , ,, , , , ,, , , , ,  Leave a comment

Changing for goodness’ sake

 by Rev. Nathan Gladish


Is it easy or hard to make changes? It’s both, of course. Sometimes the hardest changes are the best and most rewarding. I have a simple saying when attempting to make a difficult but important change: “It may not be easy, but it will be worthwhile.” One of my favorite teachings of the New Church supports this: “Nothing whatever takes place, not even the smallest thing, except in order that good may come out of it” (Secrets of Heaven 6574). The Lord wants us to change for goodness’ sake. He wants the best for us. As He tells us in Jeremiah, He has plans for us, “For peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (29:11).

Our efforts to change can be easier using a step-by-step method. So many things go on behind the scenes—details we don’t easily see, schedule, or monitor such as unconscious attitudes, feelings and influences. Fortunately, the Lord is overseeing the whole intricate process, but we need to do our part. He invites us to take initiative and use our freedom, rationality and talents to make changes. For me, it helps to have an overarching, systematic plan to follow.

I live in Motor City, where the auto industry pioneered systems for step-by-step change. Think of the complexity of an automobile assembly line, bringing together thousands of unique parts in order to manufacture a fully functioning car. When the steps of the whole procedure are clearly defined, all the people and aspects of the system can work together toward the common goal.

Current self-help literature overflows with suggestions about the number of steps of change and what they involve. Some experts recommend as few as three steps. Others identify more details, such as the famous twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. One model I’ve used extensively in my counseling practice comes from a book called Changing for Good by Prochaska, Norcross and DiClemente. Based on a large study conducted in the 1990s, the results outline a framework of six stages, each with its defining attitude.

As you read the chart below, which stage and attitude applies to you?

STAGES OF CHANGE Defining Attitude
1. Pre-contemplation “I don’t need (or want) to change.”
2. Contemplation “I’m thinking about changing; I might change.”
3. Preparation “I’ve decided to change; I’m developing plans.”
4. Action “I’m actively making changes based on my plans.”
5. Maintenance “I made the changes I want; now I’m maintaining my gains.”
6. Termination “I’m free from a long-standing problem.”


Each stage of change has its unique qualities and opportunities. They apply to all sorts of situations and to people of all ages. And at any given point in life, you could be at a different state in the process of working on various changes.

Now look at the following chart showing the steps of repentance as identified in the New Church teachings of True Christianity 530. I’ve added my own interpretation of the defining attitudes that go with them.

1. Self Exploration “I’m examining and evaluating my spiritual states and needs for change.”
2. Recognition “I see something false or evil in myself that needs to change.”
3. Acknowledgement “I accept responsibility for my part in the falsity or evil as well as for my part in plans to change.”
4. Prayer “I’m actively turning to the Lord for help, including studying His Word for inspiration, motivation, and for tools to use in effective change.”
5. Stop the Old “I’m ceasing and desisting from the old behavior with its thoughts and feelings.”
6. Begin Anew “I’m living in a new way, free from a spiritually debilitating problem.”


As a counselor, I love seeing the relationship between these two models. Both address similar concepts in the essential human process of change. Taken together, they form a framework for making effective and lasting change.

It’s common to have anxiety about change. You might think, “Nothing will change,” “Things may get worse,” “Change won’t last,” or a thousand other pesky ideas. A simple set of steps can provide perspective, reduce these fears, and increase the sense of motivation to pursue healthy change.

The Lord really wants you to experience positive and lasting change, and He will help all the way. He’s working behind the scenes, “always present with everyone, urging and pressing to be received” (True Christianity 766). Whatever you receive from His love and wisdom can be used to make significant improvements. If you follow the steps He wants you to take, you will see improvements in various areas of your life. So don’t fear. Trust His constant presence and leadership, His oversight of the intricate details of life. Then take the steps of change toward greater happiness and peace.

Read an example of blending the two plans for change


By Rev. Nathan Gladish, assistant pastor of Oak Arbor Church and principal of Oak Arbor School in Rochester, MI. He is also a licensed counselor.


“All the happiness angels have is found in service, derives from service, and is proportional to service.”

Heaven and Hell 403

Disappointment — How to get over it?

Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps was the most decorated Olympian swimmer of all time. To most people for someone with his ability anything less than several gold medals would have been a disappointment. But  do they not need to learn a lesson about life?

“If I bring back only one gold, people are going to say it’s a disappointment. But not too many of them own an Olympic gold medal, so if I get one I’m going to be happy.”
(Michael Phelps)

Yet many people suffer the tears of disappointment. A lot of things can go wrong for you: a setback in your career: loss of money in a business venture: feeling let down by a friend or professional colleague: the heartbreak of being disappointed in love: even the disappointment of a favourite football team losing an important match.

When you least feel like it, you desperately need the, not-so-simple, act of picking yourself up, pulling yourself together, and going constructively forward. But where do you find this resilience? How can you move on from the tears of disappointment?

A Taoist story about disappointment

According to one spiritual perspective, disappointing events, despite appearances to the contrary, aren’t always as bad as you first assume. There is an ancient Taoist parable that tells of an old man and his son who lived alone in poor conditions. Their only possession of value was a horse. One day, the horse ran away. The neighbours came by to offer sympathy, telling the old man how unlucky he was.

`How do you know?’ asked the old man.

The following day the horse returned, bringing with it several wild horses, which the old man and his son locked inside their gate. This time the neighbours hurried over to congratulate the old man on his good fortune.

`How do you know?’ asked the old man.

The next thing that happened was that his son tried to ride one of the wild horses but fell off and broke his leg. The neighbours were quick to tell the old man that this was a disastrous turn of events.

`How do you know?’ asked the old man.

Soon after, the army came through, press-ganging young men into service to fight a battle far away. All the local young men were taken – except the old man’s son, because his leg was broken!

In other words appearance can be deceptive. Maybe there is a hidden benefit or at least a  lesson in something going wrong if only you could see it.

Disappointment due to an unreasonable attitude

One possible hidden lesson can be to do with what is unreasonable in your attitude towards others. Disappointed in your adult child’s choice of career or your best friend’s choice of sexual partner? You might ask yourself whether this possibly indicates you are expecting someone to be the way you want them to be and not being what they want to be? If so why not try letting events to simply take their course accepting people as they are? Why not allow them freedom to do what they feel is right for them, without trying to control them, without trying to impose your own ideas and beliefs, without trying to fight against them? You might then feel less disappointed in what they do.

Exaggerating the importance of something

Perhaps you need to ask whether a feeling of disappointment might be due to your exaggerating the significance of something? If so, you could try thinking of all the bad things that could have happened but didn’t. Would it really be the end of the world if you lose your social standing, your job, or even your spouse?

It may be too late to recover the situation. But is it too late to apply what you have learned to what happens next? That is if you have learned anything of value about where you might have been going wrong. New opportunities arise in a changed situation. ‘When one door closes, another opens’. You could let go of the old circumstance and grasp the new one. Don’t give up on your dream — you never know what is waiting for you behind a certain door.

Not all that happens is connected with you

If you are upset about failing in something you might ask whether there is a lesson here to do with your attitude towards yourself. Perhaps you have the attitude that life owes you a triumph which you deserve? Or perhaps you see yourself as worthless and undeserving of any accomplishment and what happened just proves this.

But surely failure doesn’t necessarily mean there is always something good or bad about you? Okay, some of what happened could have been prevented. But other things were facets of every day life that you have to contend with and over which you have little or no control. Some days the sun comes out and shines persistently, on other days it rains with a ferocity that is hard to comprehend.

Not all is at it appears

No one can clearly see what will happen in the next hour, never mind in future months and years. But if you sense in any way, an all-knowing divine force within the workings of the universe, then you might wonder whether there is a higher benevolence, concerned for your inner happiness: and that despite your outward disappointments there might be unforeseen eventualities helpful to you.

One such potential benefit of disappointment is the chance it offers for us to learn a  lesson of life conducive to personal development.

“Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.”(Unknown author)

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Job satisfaction – How to find it?

job satisfaction
Job satisfaction

To many people, work seems to be a monotonous time that goes on and on involving much the same thing day after day. It is all very well to become lost in your work if it is an interesting profession, like teaching, the arts, or law etc. but where do get job satisfaction from more humdrum types of work?

It is true that being a small cog in a big factory or organisation, it may be hard to see that we are contributing any real service to the community but people can assume that other jobs like house-keeping, gardening or labouring are necessarily uninteresting.

Job Satisfaction and Motivation

The attitude we bring to a job can have a big effect on whether or not we find it boring. Do we have negative or positive reasons for what we are doing at work?

An occupation can exercise a positive pull on some workers as when it brings its own rewards for them. One example is the opportunity to learn on the job. Gardeners get some job satisfaction from learning about the growing process, car mechanics about the workings of petrol engines, and book-keepers can become interested in the way accounts are balanced. Another example of a positive reason is wanting to work hard because we value getting a job done well and on time.

On the other hand some people seem to be able only to find negative incentives — like going to work only for the sake of the wage or only for the training received that could help towards a needed qualification. And of course some only make the effort because of the stigma of unemployment. Some are more likely to feel dissatisfied when the job doesn’t deliver on that wage rise, or provide adequate levels of ventilation or warmth on the factory floor or in the office. If motivation is mostly negative, no wonder job satisfaction is hard to experience.

Job Satisfaction and Orientation to Others

I would like to suggest that the negatively motivated individual tends to relate to others, from the point of view of self i.e. from what they can provide for him or her. Signs of self-preoccupation include a sense of grievance, frustration, or self-pity. If people do not meet what he or she feels  is needed, and self-orientation were to dominate, then what others suggest or want might tend to be overlooked and others are likely to be easily perceived as an irritant or a threat.

Children get off to an unfortunate start in life if their parents pampered and spoiled them. Then they will have to unlearn the idea that happiness can only come from having one’s own needs met first.

On the other hand, when we are growth motivated we do not relate to others as `sources of supply’ to meet some shortage or deficit or perceived unmet need in ourselves. Consequently, we are able to view others as complex, unique, whole beings in their own right and get more job satisfaction working alongside them. We become more aware of their problems, talents and interests and thus give ourselves a better chance of having something meaningful to talk about together.

Job Satisfaction and Usefulness

Having a positive reason for doing something is looking for what is useful in the situation. Being useful keeps us physically fit as when we engage in housework, gardening, or `do it yourself’. Getting on with something can keep us mentally fit too, e.g. study, report writing, or problem solving at work. A useful life trains individual maturity as we learn to take the rough with the smooth.

The more we put in to the situation then the more we will get out of it — and that probably will include job satisfaction. By sincerely, fairly and reliably performing whatever useful tasks for which we are responsible – whether that be as parent, housekeeper, farm labourer, shop assistant, or businessman, etc – believe it or not, we can experience a deeper sense of delight that goes beyond and lasts longer than any physical or bodily pleasure.

In other words, the attitude we bring to our duties affects the quality of the way we relate to others. Every person we meet can walk away from us feeling just a little happier. This can be because of the way we deal with them, the effort we put in, and the interest we have shown. Other people will have learned to rely on us to do what is needed without being prompted. They will have come to expect us to put proper feeling and thought into what we do. Their appreciation can give us huge job satisfaction.

Having a caring involvement with one’s family and friends or carrying out paid employment or voluntary work for the community – all these activities can be a challenge to the heart and mind that makes every day alive with opportunity and interest. By not being idle and being effective in what we do, we have no time to get bored. Not that being busy should become an end in itself. We all need time out for rest and recuperation.

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems