Is it Enough to be Tolerant?
Tolerance is not the opposite
of prejudice, racism and bigotry. The twenty-three
million people of the former Yugoslavia, comprising
more than fifteen ethnic groups tolerated each other
and even called each other “comrade” for
decades. Their capital, Sarajevo, was famous as a cosmopolitan,
tolerant, ethnically mixed city. When communism was
overthrown in 1991, the country fell apart and became
a hell of horrendous human barbarism, rape and ethnic
cleansing. Tolerance had not erased the festering
animosity bred of religious, cultural and historical
What can a society do to become truly
united in its diversity? Tolerance is preferable to
the aggressiveness of active hatred, but is no guarantee
that people develop a real, and positive appreciation
of a multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-religious
community. Tolerance is a passive acceptance of what
is different and what one cannot change. It can be
a type of resignation.
Humanity now needs to prepare for the next psychological
step. That would be measuring all attitudes, policies
and actions with the scale of fellowship.
At the low end of this scale is cooperation and collaboration;
at the high end is sacrificing oneself for another.
This psychology is based on the consciousness of interdependence,
shared humanity, and concern for the common good. This
consciousness has to be developed so that humanity
may solve its common challenges for survival and happiness.
Currently, our potential for fellowship is hidden
behind walls of fear, frustration and arrogance. When
people have the means to tell their stories and when
other people make a point to listen, then understanding,
compassion and forgiveness of past injustice may result.
In a relationship it is legitimate for people to express
their anger and hurt for past injustice. That is a
first step in the healing process. After anger is expressed
and understood, people have a basis for communication
and ultimately for trust, respect and equality in relationship.
When people are unable to express their true feelings
and when no one is listening, then it builds until
it is expressed explosively and destructively.
Anger or fear that erupts into
violence against others needs to be addressed in
any relationship. When ethnic, racial, religious
or philosophical differences are used to create destructive
alliances of hate, these are symptomatic of real
psychological, and material needs not being met.
Every person and every group wants and needs to be
recognized, accepted and ultimately understood — not
Beyond tolerance has to be a strategy for inclusiveness
and communication. Starting from the most basic relationship,
for example a friendship or a family, a foundation
of honesty, trust, and openness has to be developed.
When the individuals of a society feel accepted and
heard, and full participants, then the society as a
whole will be more unified, secure, and prosperous.
Such a society would be characterized by cooperation
rather than by competition. Social diseases such as
exploitation and culture wars would be reduced and
finally non-existent. They would be replaced by a dynamic
and diverse culture.
In a society that is united by a sense of common purpose
and a sense that everyone is important to the success
of that purpose, differences and diversity are not
only tolerated, but also cultivated as the source of
creativity, creative problem solving, and full participation.
This is the team spirit that successful coaches develop
in their athletes. Any successful business encourages
discussion, teamwork and sharing diverse points of
view and various skills. Societies need to build their
citizens as teams and businesses build their employees.
Leadership in this context would be looking out for
the welfare and happiness of employees, empowering
them and respecting their individuality. This would
then result in loyalty and commitment to the group
purpose, evoking their independence and ingenuity.
Humanity as a group also has a common purpose, but
has many obstacles to overcome before it feels like
we are all on the same team. We need to not just tolerate
each other, but we need to actively share our goals
and abilities. When everyone is able to contribute
to the best of their abilities to solve problems of
their communities, then the world will be closer to
solving global problems. Historical debts need to be
forgiven as well as paid. Human rights need to be upheld
by all societies. Finally, each culture needs to have
the ability to contribute their unique wisdom to the
resolution of our social and environmental problems.
Tolerance is not enough; we need strategies to include
all people as equal and contributing global citizens.
This would be a valid purpose for all nations and a
peaceful replacement for philosophical, religious,
and political dogmas.
Richard V. Sidy