Tolerations take a toll on total tranquility

A classic toleration involves using an object for something other than its intended purpose to do something that shouldn't be done. Here, a stick of firewood is used to prevent the door of an overstuffed freezer from coming open.

Once, when I was traveling home from an out-of-state trip, I encountered the following sign in a public restroom: “Jiggle the handle after you flush to prevent water from continuing to run through the toilet.” Well-worn and taped on the wall over the back of the commode, the sign announced that both the proprietor and the patrons of the store had been putting up with the situation far too long.

What made the sign and the situation all the more moronic and ironic was the store was a big box home improvement establishment, which actually sold the components necessary to repair the toilet, and presumably employed people who could have fixed the problem in less time than it took to write out and post the handle jiggle reminder.

But no one had bothered to directly address the real problem, although it clearly bothered someone enough to post a list of instructions for repeatedly treating its symptoms. Our nation may have been built upon The Constitution, but duct tape solutions are what holds us together. Had I invested heavily in 3M stock, I could have retired comfortably by age 40.

But back to handle jiggling: Using that story, let me introduce the topic of tolerations. While the concept is likely familiar, the name for it may not be. A toleration is something you put up with or that bugs you; an ongoing nuisance or irritant that creates friction and frustration; the mental equivalent of a blister on your heel. Tolerations drain personal energy and demand negative attention. They are the stuff that continues to sap more and more energy from life until you chose to do something about them. Or not.

Be sure not to confuse tolerations with “tolerance,” the skill of accepting the things that we cannot change or that we consciously choose not to change. Learning and applying tolerance to situational “givens” beyond our control is a healthy and useful response technique. It shifts us away from the draining energy of agitation and frustration and back into the flow of life.

Conversely, tolerations are weird, voluntary barriers of suffering that block the flow of activity and life through inconveniencing us to death. They disrupt normal activity and relationships, forcing us to use extra time and energy to accommodate their silly demands. They are the elephants in our living rooms, vehicles, workplaces and approaches to life.

Anyone willing to take an honest look at his/her life will find at least a few tolerations. Closer examination of vehicles, appliances and other equipment (including computers), lifestyles, hobbies, health, habits and self-care, family and friendships, work conditions, co-workers and business clients yields an average of 100 different tolerations requiring regular negotiation.

Tolerations range from the coffee mug that cannot be safely lifted by its cracked handle to the toaster that must be manually monitored and popped up, to the unstable rug that causes accidental, dangerous hardwood floor surfing, to the perpetually late friend who has to be lied to about movie times to get there on time, to the incorrectly hung picture frame that needs daily re-straightening, to the unbalanced ceiling fan mentally unbalancing its owners, to the driver’s seat in my brother-in-law’s truck that automatically moves forward upon vehicle shut-off, pinning the unsuspecting against the steering wheel.

Why do we put up with this crap? There are a number of reasons, with money being the only remotely defensible one. The rest include ignorance, low standards, lack of self-responsibility, lack of tools, over-promising, guilt, shame, procrastination, weak boundaries, inadequate energy, powerlessness and unworthiness. We’re often either too proud or too embarrassed to ask for the help we need, so we suffer our tolerations in silence.

Except for the occasional, unexplainable spontaneous electronic healing, tolerations don’t fix themselves. But once we start identifying them, we can devise elimination strategies, beginning with humbling ourselves sooner rather than later and enlisting others who can either help us or direct us to someone who can.

The net result of taking care of toleration business is added personal energy and power for more effectively managing our lives and work. We have two basic choices: Take the time now to tighten life’s handles or keep jiggling them forever.


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