Beyond intolerance

Two years after I wrote to the Williams College presidential search committee about the need for a more nuanced approach towards racism and intolerance, a new president was hired and a new “Inquiry, Expression and Inclusion” policy has been published. Here’s an excerpt:

Williams College does not consider an invitation to campus an endorsement of the visitor’s views. Further, in our encouragement of vigorous dialogue and the free exchange of ideas, we acknowledge that discomforting encounters will occur. In that knowledge, we will continue expanding ways to offer support to all individuals and groups within our community, as part of our mission to equip every community member with the tools they need for effective discourse, debate and dissent. We also recognize that free expression has its limits: speech that threatens, incites violence, or constitutes harassment has no place in our community.

I think this represents a very important shift away from “we don’t tolerate intolerance” towards “we don’t tolerate violence.” The focus is on actions rather than thoughts. People can think or believe whatever they want, but saying or doing something violent is not ok to the community. The core question becomes “what is violence?” rather than the much less useful “what is intolerance?” After all, intolerance doesn’t hurt — harassment and discrimination does.

I also like the acknowledgement that difficult conversations are difficult! Education and support are needed to help everyone in the community learn to navigate situations involving diversity and disagreement. Our society on the whole is not well prepared for this. It seems logical to me that colleges and universities be on the forefront of this educational mission.

Healthy aggression

“The pickle that we’ve gotten into is that, in order to function as a society, we really can’t go around bashing everything that annoys us over the head. Yet holding it in, taking a deep breath, “sending love and light” to the frustration – all of this will simply repress that energy and make us sick in some way.

“It is possible for you to start practicing a couple things on your own that can start to change and redirect the habitual pathways of unhealthy externalization (lashing out, temper tantrums, road rage) and internalization (suppression, depression, sickness) that have become the norm.”

-Seth Lyon [link]

Walk away

“It’s ok and healthy to walk away from people who cause destruction in your life. … Do yourself a favor and don’t try to change them. Doing so will only frustrate you and enrage them — not to mention cost you time, money, energy, and your sanity.”

-Dana Morningstar, Out of the Fog (ch. 7)


“My belief is that, whenever we say something to another person, we are requesting something in return. It may simply be an empathic connection—a verbal or nonverbal acknowledgment [that] our words have been understood. Or we may be requesting honesty: we wish to know the listener’s honest reaction to our words. Or we may be requesting an action that we hope would fulfill our needs. The clearer we are on what we want back from the other person, the more likely it is that our needs will be met.”

-Marshall Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication (p. 74)