A Practical Guide to Being Intolerant

During my day job, I meet a lot of people from different backgrounds. Most people have no problem being intolerant to others. Those who are not intolerant find it difficult to get along with others. Here is a guide for those, who want to be a part of the in-group.


There are some safety precautions you must follow lest you become tolerant. Foremost is to not think and reflect. Be lazy when you can. It always works like a charm. The second precaution is to always perpetuate stereotypes. They are there for a reason.

Technique 1: The funny ethnic joke

A recent dialogue between one of the participants at a training session:

Participant: “Sir, I want to tell you a joke.”

Me: “Please, go ahead.”

Participant: “Sir, when was Pakistan founded.”

Me: “1947”

Participant: “No”

Me: “How is that?”

Participant: “Sir, it came into being in 1940. It took them 7 years to decide who would keep Sikhs and who, Pashtuns.”

It’s such a convenient and lazy way to make others laugh. When short of humorous material, google ethnic jokes and voila!

Technique 2: The hell-bound fashionista

Overheard at malls and other public places is this oft-repeated sentiment that those who follow fashion and wear lots of make-up will end up in hell. Hidden in this statement is the assumption that modern looking people have shaky morals and they can sell their soul to the devil to buy a new branded shirt. Maybe they do! Branded shirts are expensive.

You can also add to this category the close-minded fundo, who is made fun of because of, yes, you are right, their physical appearance.

Technique 3: The ungrateful South Walay

Experienced again at a training session, when I told the participants the story of how treating my past as a burden always put me down, a participant said, “Sorry sir, South Walay hamaisha inferiority complex mein rehtay hain.” He added further, “Sir, I come from a village up North, but I am proud of my roots.” The point I was trying to make was completely lost and it became about the feud between North and South. Embellishing this technique even further is the honorable mention of the “Arrogant Central Punjab Walay.”

Technique 4: Burgers

The English-speaking crowd sits in their echo chambers and cannot empathize with the common man. They only eat at fancy restaurants and are a danger to the ideology of Pakistan. You could also add the ‘pan eating Karachi walay’ and ‘un-couth Punjabis’ to this category.

Technique 5: You are my ‘Nigga’

Not as pervasive as others, this technique also conveniently trivializes the history and travails of an entire race. Boys and girls who have just hit adolescence, find the most fun in it. It’s endearing how they use this word and there is even WhatsApp groups called “My Nigga’’ that have special friends on them.   

Technique 6: You are stupid for following PPP/PML/PTI/MQM

The most famous technique to be intolerant in Pakistan is to make ‘funny’ jokes on everyone other than your own favorite politicians. All of them are corrupt and they could not care less of their people. They deserve to be chastised till they don’t because that politician just joined your favorite political party from the rival camp.

Bonus Material

If you are bored with using the above, here is a much simpler technique: just look for how ‘different’ the other is from you. There is always physical features, dress, language and family backgrounds to make fun of.

Leader’s Toolkit

For too long, and rightly so, we have been ‘hooked’ to the ambient theories of motivation. Trying to understand the human psyche, aligning management tools to individual and group needs and make people work to get more out of each dollar, has been and is the cornerstone of research and study by social scientists and psychologists.

One such great thinker was Abraham Maslow who had a profound impact on how management was and is shaped. An American psychologist, Maslow was best known for creating the hierarchy of needs expressed in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. He stressed the importance of focusing on the positive qualities in people, as opposed to treating them as a “bag of symptoms.” The five rungs of Maslow’s ladder are still taught at most universities; millenials are well aware of it, and organizations formulate their reward and recognition policies around it.

Times through these ages has repeatedly demonstrated that those who make it into history books and whose stories are told as inspirational legacies are ones who did not traverse the hierarchy of needs. They by-passed them and reached the top. The story of their journey begins in the last rung of actualization. That’s where the action happens. Prior to this, life’s rituals are around existence and survival; conditions that are not the prescription for human excellence. Think of the Nobel Prize winners; great musicians and painters; inventors and architects; nation-builders and astronomers; social workers and historians – spending decades of their life looking for that one molecule; an economic theory; a musical note that moves the soul; in quest of material to build; life in deep space; serving the ill and burying the dead – what makes them do what they do? Such tenacity, endurance and persistence is not the stuff of survival. There is more to life than filling the belly and a roof over the head. Human struggle is capable of by-passing these menial low-life form activities and launching straight into the rung of self-actualization.

Even in these travails, self-actualization is not the driving force; it is the unforeseen consequence. What is it that makes us capable of navigating past the bodily, safety, psychological and esteem needs to live a life of perpetual contribution?

Upon intense closer reflection, deep inside the last rung of self-actualization, there is another journey. This is one way of how it can be expressed:

leaders toolkit

Pride in what you do lends a firm and robust identity constituted by an unshakable ideology. This pride is augmented by a sense of service, prayer and faith. It is a spiritual experience that fills the belly, intrigues the mind and corroborates the heart. People/societies without an identity are too busy finding one; looking around to compare their own with others, falling into the trap of arrogance if theirs is better, or inferiority complexes, if worse. There is no anchor in such mental quandaries for intelligence to begin its search into the unfamiliar.

What you have pride in, you will care for. This care is ‘respect’ – the ability to repeatedly ‘see’ from the other’s perspective. There is empathy for another and kindness for the environment and resources. This state gives dignity, self-value; beyond mere self-esteem. Without this ability to ‘see’, one is stuck in self-serving traditions.

Empowerment is to recognize one’s power to think, feel and do. With the immense faith imbibed by the previous two stages, this power has to be used, resulting in a heightened state of trust – that molecule has to be studied; this music note says it all; galaxies, million light years away, must be investigated. The enormous trust in oneself is realized and trust in others (people and matter) becomes normal. Without trust, the individual is ensnared in a victim mentality.

The lens of trust makes the eye seek and unravel the unseen. Such a mind enters its veiled realms and creates, designs, scripts and formulates the new, the unknown, the fresh dimension leading to growth in character and progress. Looking at and living in the past is the reality of those not having arrived here.

The individual arrives at the locus of inspiration – everything and every moment is wonder-ful. Being awestruck becomes the natural condition that drives the order. Time and space become immaterial, resulting in tremendous contribution to uplift and unfold the mysteries that are ours to discern.

Pain and pleasure are the proclaimed motivators. Whatever we do is supposed to be guided by our instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This P&P principle drives us at both levels – the physical and the spiritual. The outcomes are different. The physical levels are the same as of animals, and remain the motivations of survival. The spiritual P&Ps are the human reality burgeoning what religion, philosophy, mysticism, aesthetics, ethics and morality prescribes for us to be.

Being Firm and Fair

Organizations are often held hostage by aggressive high performers who are great at meeting short term goals through pushing and ordering people around, but that comes at a high cost. Long term viability of any business is adversely affected if such conduct goes unchecked. 

No two people are alike. We have different pasts, experiences and beliefs. We come from different backgrounds and cultures. As individuals each one of us is unique and is motivated by different things; yet, we are alike in many ways….Being able to leverage such diversity is what makes all the difference in performance. Understanding and working with difference is a key challenge for any manager to be effective.

Focus of this article is on managers who have a tendency to be very firm and demanding, with little or no concern for how their outbursts or mindless straightforwardness affects individuals and teams at the receiving end. Such a forthright behavior without tact and sense of timing, no matter how well meaning, harms an otherwise conducive work environment.

Organizations are often held hostage by aggressive high performers who are great at meeting short term goals through pushing and ordering people around, but that comes at a high cost. Long term viability of any business is adversely affected if such conduct goes unchecked.

It is important, however, not to write-off such people as trouble-makers. Instead, it would be worth our while to try and understand where they are coming from and what drives them to extreme behaviors.

Through counseling and coaching, it is quite possible, that ‘rough stones’ can be encouraged to turn themselves into diamonds. Often genuine concern for meeting demanding business objectives lead some managers to express themselves in ways that are unproductive.

Those who are overly aggressive tend to be more firm than fair. This is usually because they know no better. However, when such people ultimately do turn around, and a few do by finding the right balance in their leadership style, they become amazing allies of change and transformation.

In organizations, aggressive people are mostly feared or side-lined. This is largely because managers fail to confront such people with the intent to redirect their energy to a positive end.

How can we harness the energy of aggressive people to achieve business goals on a sustainable basis? Think about it. Why are some people aggressive and intolerant? Is this a habit? Or do events trigger an unreasonable behavior in them? When a subordinate explodes on another colleague in the office, in the presence of many, why do their bosses not attend to it promptly and effectively?

There can be many reasons for this, but one thing is clear, the answer to why we behave the way we do, lies in our past. The clues to our present behaviors can be traced back to when we were born, right through to the present time. However, the first seven to ten years of our lives are most significant. These early years can be likened to wet cement, where whatever falls on it, leaves a lasting impression, unless the matter is addressed there and then. Experts in the field of psychology maintain that our most qualified and competent teachers should be teaching in primary schools. This is the time when children are more impressionable. However, despite this knowledge, we live in a land where primary schools teachers are the least qualified and competent, and where parenting is neglected.

Erik Erikson, is known to be a giant developmental theorist. He suggests that we experience inner conflicts as we progress through life. How they get resolved along the way has a significant bearing to our present conduct. The following table is reproduced from the chapter on “The Socialization Process” from a book titled Child Development by John Santrock and Steven Yussen. It highlights the different stages through which we evolve and the inner conflicts we face:

Erikson’s Stages of Development

Late adulthood (51+) Ego, Integrity vs despair
Middle adulthood (31-50) Generativity vs stagnation
Young adulthood (21-30) Intimacy vs isolation
Adolescence (16-20) Identity vs role confusion
Middle and late childhood (11-15) Industry vs inferiority
Early childhood (3-10) Initative vs guiltAutonomy vs shame, doubt
Infancy (0-2) Basic trust vs mistrust

Based on the table above, the sources of aggression can be traced to our infancy and early childhood. For example, if a manager is behaving aggressively, it is quite possible that during childhood, he did not enjoy sufficient freedom to do things on his own and as a result started doubting his own abilities. When anyone uses excessive force to get things done, it could be because the idea is weak. Aggressive people tend to defend weak ideas.

In light of the foregoing, it becomes vital for managers to acquire in-depth knowledge about their colleagues and subordinates in an informal setting. Effective information exchange can take place only in a climate of trust. Without building and enjoying a good rapport with team mates, our efforts to coach or counsel falls by the way side. In fact our attempts to help can also be counter-productive.

Similarly, intolerance stems from us not trusting the process or people we work with. It’s our heightened sense of insecurity that makes it difficult for us to accept anything that is different from status quo i.e., we choose to cling to our comfort zone, and abhor contrarian thinking.

Habit is what we do repeatedly, without applying conscious thought to it. What lies dormant in our subconscious mind often gets triggered through events. For example, the sight of lizards gives some people the creeps – a response that is also a habit. When things are not done as told, some managers sense a loss of power – they feel insecure and behave aggressively.

There could be many reasons for why bosses hold back. It could either be their tactic or strategy of allowing time for things to simmer down. But this is usually not the case. Some bosses are slow in addressing difficult people and situations largely because of fear or apathy or lack of skill. In some ways, this behavior can be viewed as ‘Passive’, which is the other extreme of aggressive. Both ‘Passive’ and ‘Aggressive’ behaviors are acquired from our past experiences, particularly our early childhood.

Passive behavior is characterized by our failure to express our wants and needs honestly. Tendency to allow others to disregard our rights is also very evident in ‘passive’ individuals. On the other hand, aggressive people usually tend to only concern themselves with their own rights and privileges, and that too, at all costs, having no regard for the rights and feelings of others.

There are no easy answers, but as a pointer, seriously consider coaching and counseling. Coaching is for skills enhancement, where the coachee is usually keen to learn. Counseling, on the other hand, is for addressing attitudinal issues and as such can be very time-consuming at first. A company would be in real trouble if most of its people were in need of counseling.

Before you embark on a coaching strategy in your organization, it will be worth your while investigating how attuned your managers are to the subject. Ask them to share their perspectives on:

    • What is coaching?
    • How does one get a “buy-in” for coaching?
    • What actions does a coach need to take?
    • How is feedback provided to improve performance?
    • How does one coach someone who knows more than the coach?
    • What are the payoffs for the coach and the company?

Coaching and mentoring strategies are increasingly being welcomed by top companies to get the best out of people. The benefits show that coaching:

  • Makes a marked difference to performance
  • Gets even a beginner to perform competently and quickly
  • Turns an average performer into someone with real strengths
  • Best performers, too, need a coach to help them stretch themselves to become even better

In addition to becoming a better coach, most managers need to concentrate on becoming assertive, which is a delicate balancing act.

By being assertive, managers can deal with conflicts intelligently, facilitate positive changes in peoples’ behaviors, negotiate effectively with a variety of internal and external constituents, and lead the growth agenda of the organization, while keeping all stakeholders committed through the journey.

Assertiveness is a skill that can be learned to counter our inherited tendency to either be aggressive or passive.