Over the course of the past year, in our pursuit to have our voices heard, we seem to have lost the ability of toleration. It seems that the only way to be heard is to shout louder than the opposition. The only way to prove a point is to reject someone else's. The only way to civilly carry on a conversation is to simply avoid the conversation in the first place.

We've isolated ourselves and our views: only associating with friends that have similar views, only following certain people on social media, and only listening to our side of the conversation. It became "us" vs. "them." There was little to no dialogue, no common ground, and having a discussion without making it personal became a rarity. Every word and every idea was suddenly rooted in personal justification. The rhetoric felt overwhelmingly toxic and insulting. It was difficult just turning on the news, but this wasn't something that was exclusive to the national forum. The local culture was becoming altered by this critical lack of respect or toleration from either side of the aisle.

This brings us back to the idea of toleration. Toleration means respecting and accepting someone's right to have opposing opinions. Toleration doesn't mean we all have to agree, but rather it means we can acknowledge our shared humanity and can, therefore, participate in civil discourse.

It means not letting emotions govern our perception of the world. It means understanding that no one possesses all of the answers. It means listening before speaking, speaking before shouting, and thinking before acting. It means that when we act, we act out of reason and not just anger.

We've isolated ourselves because of our absolute contempt at the notion that someone could disagree with our ideas. We've grown complacent in arguing our own truth but failing to acknowledge the existence of someone else's truth.

Having toleration does not mean sitting idly by and expecting change to happen just through conversation. We can still demand change and create action without belittling or excluding the ideas of anyone we don't agree with.

Toleration in itself is not a new concept. This is how societies have been able to function and co-exist for hundreds of years. Voltaire said it best, "Think for yourself and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so too." It is a fact of life that not everyone will agree on everything, but that doesn't mean we stop trying to converse and carry on a dialogue.

We all see the world through the lens of our own experiences. No one sees the world in exactly the same way. Respecting that everyone has a right to their opinion and acknowledging our shared humanity can foster improved understanding to ensure a better future for our country.