Communication Self Improvement — 16 February 2015
Developing Tolerance for Others’ Viewpoints

The strong divergent views people hold about life, decision-making or conduct that serve them well go astray when they are used to judge and discount others who live differently. How can we live by our guidelines and respect others’ ways as well?

Would we be able to be more tolerant, kind and more accepting of others if we reminded ourselves that their views, as ours, have been predominantly innately pre-programmed and are used for sustaining their esteem and wellbeing?

Nick Martin, an Australian geneticist studied 4,500 pairs of fraternal and identical twins to identify the significant determinants in humans’ social attitudes. He found that genetic factors rather than cultural ones determined individuals’ social preferences.

John Alford, Carolyn Funk and John Hibbing used Martin’s data to construct an index of conservatism or liberalism based on the participants’ responses to questions about abortion, gun control, death penalty and other social issues. They found that “40-50% of the political attitudes and ideologies were genetically determined and few political attitudes resulted from parental socialization.”

Research by Rick Crelia and Abraham Tesser found that “Attitude agreement is more attributable to high heritability attitudes.” In “The Transmission of Political Values from Parent to Child,” M. Kent Jennings and Richard Niemi reported a “low correlations between attitudes held by parents and their adolescent children.”

If, indeed, humans’ political, ideological or personal views are significantly programmed in our DNA rather than impacted by parents or others’ influences, could we learn to be more respectful, kind and more reverent of each other and abandon the derogatory, discounting and sometime scornful attitude towards those who do not think as we do?

The arrogance of believing that one’s perspective is the only truth and all other views are unworthy and their holders are inferior have led to many social and human tragedies. It licensed hate and arrogance of political dictators and left many wise and decent people beleaguered and harmed.

In relationships, finding fault with a spouse, family member, supervisor or neighbor affords us a temporary sense of superiority. We delude ourselves into believing that we could not have made that mistake, taken that action or reacted in a way that we do not value. These thoughts provide us with a temporary sense of wellbeing that is momentarily empowering but usually untrue and mostly unfair to others.

When arguments between mates are tinged with hostility, disrespect, anger or discounting of each other’s views, pairs fail to see each other as precious beings and allow their loving bond to deteriorate. Tolerance of innate or acquired differences is a pivotal element of all healthy and functional relationships.

To develop tolerance:

  • Accept that personal or political views of your mate, friend, colleague or neighbor may be pre-wired.
  • View with curiosity another’s differing thoughts, actions or feelings.
  • Validate another person’s preferences as you seek to reach a compromise that honors both of you.
  • Model tolerance at home. It enhances you and your partner and teaches your children respectful decency.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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