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#ToleranceMeans Being Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

Updated: Apr 8

Kaitlynn Borik, Graduate, Saint Louis University

To me, tolerance is a continuous journey of learning to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. We live our lives seeking out similar people; people that have the same views, race, religion, or culture because it is comfortable and familiar to relate to their experiences. But as our current methods of stratification and the resulting systemic and institutional biases convey—we need tolerance to truly grow as a community and live in this world harmoniously. 

I grew up in Belleville, a close-knit, majority white Catholic southern city in Illinois. As part of the majority, I had little experience interacting with people of backgrounds different than my own. This changed when I entered college; I realized how little I knew outside of my hometown. Reflecting upon how my upbringing impacted my beliefs and values, I wondered how others’ backgrounds have shaped them. I delved into this interest and began studying sociology. 

As a pre-medical student, I was especially interested in investigating how beliefs outside of traditional Western medicine impacted patient access to care, treatment, and outcomes in America. In my classes, I learned about the specific struggles many refugees and immigrants face. Equipped with this knowledge, I desired to learn more about the diverse patient populations in St. Louis and began volunteering with Christian Friends of New Americans, a local organization that assists recent refugees and immigrants become acquainted with America’s healthcare system. 

After four years of volunteering at Christian Friends of New Americans, I have realized that being open to learning about others’ perspectives and cultural beliefs has made me a better health screener and prepared me to be a culturally competent physician, cognizant of how beliefs and circumstances may affect a patient’s preferred treatment. I connect with my patients on a deeper level and ask about their experience living in America. Educating myself on the needs of my patients motivated me to find resources to help the future immigrants and refugees that I serve.

The lessons I have learned through sociology and volunteering with diverse patient populations cultivated my personal growth and passion for cultural humility in daily life as well as healthcare. Through these experiences, I challenged and checked my own personal biases, many of which were fostered through a lack of previous knowledge and misunderstanding. I am incredibly grateful for this journey, which taught me the value of not only understanding but appreciating our differences and unique perspectives.

Our current circumstances call for drastic change in our standards of acceptance and respect for others. When we work to understand and appreciate people for who they are, the journey toward tolerance can begin. We need to be open to exploring our differences—in other words, become comfortable with the uncomfortable.


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