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Tolerance - Matt Singley


One of the (many) shortcomings that we humans have is always wanting more. Particularly in an absolute capitalistic society, the desire for more is ever-present, and the finish line never arrives, unless we are very intentional about developing tolerance.

I think one of the more common examples of tolerance is alcohol. If you only have one drink and you get a mild buzz, you may think that continuing to only have one drink at a time will continue to give you the same mild buzz. That’s not how it works though; the more often you have one drink, the more of a tolerance you will develop, and so now you need two for the safe effect. This continues on, ad infinitum, until it is no longer sustainable. This post isn’t about drinking though, it’s about other areas of tolerance that are not as obvious.

Eating in another thing that is easy to “ruin”, for lack of a better term, with building up a tolerance. How often do you go through your day and eat only a bit of rice and some fruit, or a piece of bread with nothing, or perhaps a small amount of butter? Most people don’t have the habit of eating like this (unless they are feeling ill, in which case the inclination to more plain food is inherent). Setting illness aside, it’s difficult to find pleasure it just a bowl of rice, since we tend to lean toward more flavorful foods. The more often we do this, I think, the more often we have to increase the flavor, the richness, the saltiness, the sweetness…whatever attribute is dominant. When one is used to eating rich foods with an abundance of flavor, it’s difficult to “go backwards” to something more plain.

The same can be said for what excites us (speaking in the non-sexual sense, although it very much applies to that as well). Can you find joy in simply walking down your street and listening to the birds, looking at the trees and feeling the breeze? Perhaps, and if you can, that is great. Once you go through your neighborhood on a bike though, it’s hard to “go backwards” to the “thrill” of simply walking. Take it a step further, and I would imagine that once you jump out of an airplane, walking through your neighborhood seems almost boring. It’s not difficult to develop a tolerance for excitement, always needed just a bit more than the time before to feel the same sense of joy or elation.

Where I think tolerance has really affected us negatively, and very much obviously only in recent decades, is consumption of information. Yesterday I touched briefly on FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out), but I think that our intake of information from sources is more than that. I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that a person is afraid of missing something, I think it goes deeper into the idea of tolerance (that is, a build up of increasing volume or intensity) of information always needed to be a bit more than the previous exposure. With the internet at our fingertips at all times, we develop a sort of hardness to just basic information. Put another way, we unknowingly build up a tolerance of volume of input, so that without slowly (or perhaps, quickly) increasing the volume, we feel like we have hardly absorbed anything. The irony in this, of course, is that the more we consume, the less we are likely to absorb (retain). There is only so much input we, humans, are capable of before the input becomes to much, and while our tolerance (need for more) increases, our ability to “enjoy” (or, in other words, be satisfied with) the information we are receiving decreases. Not unlike trying to truly enjoy a bowl of plain rice after developing a habit for heavily-spiced and prepared cuisine.

Only by seeing this as a problem does one care to look for a solution. Most people (myself included too often) don’t think that the input is too much… in fact they usually think it is not enough. When this happens, the quality of input decreases; the signal to noise ratio diminishes considerably, and we find ourselves needing more, just to satisfy what we consider idle curiosity or the “need” to be informed. This is the genesis of FOMO; it’s not fear at all, it is a tolerance that cannot be satiated. The solution is complex and likely different for most people, but the beginning is just understanding that this is, indeed, a problem.

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