Why do we need tolerance? The glib answer is that it is necessary in a society where conflict, racism, sexism, and ageism make life miserable for many people.
Let us look first at what tolerance means. It means putting up with something that you do not agree with or are not comfortable with.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, tolerance is:
“The disposition to be patient with or indulgent to the opinions or practices of others; freedom from bigotry or undue severity in judging the conduct of others; forbearance.”
When we tolerate something like pain, noisy neighbors, insects, or awful weather, then those things are almost despised. Is that how we want to treat our human brothers and sisters too?
When people say they are tolerant, watch out — this is not the whole story!
“I learned that very often the most intolerant and narrow-minded people are the ones who congratulate themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness.” — Christopher Hitchins
Tolerance is needed more than ever before
We all know that violence and persecution have resulted in a massive humanitarian problem, creating an unprecedented number of refugees. One in every 122 human beings on planet earth is now a refugee thanks to upheavals and wars in many countries throughout the Middle East and Africa. Again, tolerance is not enough, it must go deeper and be much more active, as Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, has so rightly stated.
“Our practice of tolerance must mean more than peaceful co-existence, crucial as that is. It must be an active understanding fostered through dialogue and positive engagement with others.” — Ban Ki-Moon.
This must be the answer as we witness the onslaught of intolerance, hatred, and violence against immigrants. Donald Trump exploits ignorance and fear to gain votes in his electoral campaign. He never uses the word “tolerance.” Tolerance can also mean that poor people should stay in their ghettos and not get too close to the rich!
Tolerance is not enough — we also need acceptance and mutual understanding.
Tolerance is not enough — it must include acceptance. It also means learning about and understanding other people who may be different in race, faith, or sexual orientation. All too often, under the guise of multiculturalism, we are merely saying that we will tolerate people who are different provided they pretend to be just like us.
“Our tolerance is part of what makes Britain Britain. So conform to it, or don’t come here.” — Tony Blair, UK Prime Minister (1997-2007)
Now, wouldn’t it have been much better if the British Prime Minister had urged us to celebrate the differences of others, co-operate, and collaborate with each other to build a better society?
Tolerance is not enough — we need to build an equal society
The world-famous philosopher Slavoj Zizek is well known for his controversial views on life and society. He has been nominated as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy Journal, and the International Journal Of Zizek Studies is dedicated to his scholarly work and writing.
Zizek often points out that Martin Luther King never used the word tolerance.
“For him (and he was right) it would have been an obscenity to say white people should learn to tolerate us more.” — Slavoj Zizek
There was no request for people to get along or be tolerant. The Civil Rights Movement was demanding economic equity. It was no accident King finished his speech with the words, “We’re here to cash a check.”
“Why are so many problems today perceived as problems of intolerance, rather than as problems of inequality, exploitation, or injustice? Why is the proposed remedy tolerance, rather than emancipation, political struggle, or even armed struggle?” — Slavoj Zizek, Living in the End Times
Understanding is not enough. Multiculturalism is not the easy solution either. No society has really solved how different cultures can co-exist and what rules they can share if this is to be a successful model. Mere tolerance is not enough; we have to build an emancipated society where equal rights are really practiced and respected. We can start by showing how we accept and love others in our everyday lives. As humans, we innately crave love.
“The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” — Mother Teresa
Featured photo credit: Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial — Washington (DC) March 2012/ Ron Cogswell via flickr.com