Tolerance – Food for Thought

A friend of my family member is contending with a warring staff. To try to remedy this, he ordered a cake from my family member, for that staff – a cake with the word ‘tolerance’ boldly emblazoned on it. This caused me to reflect on the word tolerance and its implications in our lives. Tolerance, in this context, is the ability to be at peace with opinions or habits that one disagrees with. Few of us possess this valuable trait. But why is it valuable? Tolerance is the precursor to peace and, therefore, to happiness, both internally (or personally) as well as socially. Life with a focus on other’s opinions, behaviours, and habits is a frightfully restless one because we have little control over what others think and do. Intolerance will therefore serve as an almost endless source of emotional inflammation. When internal intolerance is expressed to others, it becomes even more dangerous. Intolerance (or the absence of tolerance) is the very reason for the religious wars that have destroyed entire cities, even in these “civilised” times. It has caused hundreds of years of unnecessary conflict, destroyed societies, families, and countless lives throughout history. Yet we hardly ever seem to learn from these seemingly obvious lessons nor do we acknowledge the significant benefits that tolerance can bring to our lives.

Why is it so difficult to see the benefit of this necessary human value in this magnificently diverse world? I think part of it has to do with the necessity for certain degrees of intolerance. You see, there are different degrees of disagreeable things. Certain things in society, or in a workplace or family, should not be tolerated. Some of these are obvious, at least to most of us. For example, sexual misconduct, or violence are not condonable actions and must be dealt with firmly. In Hinduism, we refer to this as Manyava or ‘righteous anger’. But I fear that the lines of where our anger should stop become blurry after these obvious examples. Where righteous anger stops, tolerance should start. To tell where that line is, each of us will need to acquire intellectual strength or wisdom. This will allow us to exercise discernment or discrimination between right and wrong. Once each of us has this wisdom strengthened, then we can deal appropriately with each case in which we disagree with subjects, actions, or persons.

But once we demarcate the things that we need to tolerate, how do we then truly tolerate them, such that the restlessness of intolerance is replaced with a sense of peace. A remedy to intolerance is to acknowledge that each person’s beliefs, behaviours, and habits are partly a result of that person’s experiences up to that point, and since not all experiences are chosen, we could find room to forgive disagreeable beliefs, behaviours, and habits. Then we each have to acknowledge that we too are not perfect, and that our own beliefs and reactions to others beliefs are subject to our experiences thus far, and even those could change, at least in part, as our experiences change. Even intolerance to other’s opinions is a weakness, a disagreeable habit, a necessary trait that we need to work on to improve ourselves. Notice how the great souls of this world, the Mother Teresa’s, the Mandela’s, the Gandhi’s had great degrees of tolerance and this was one of the attributes that gave them their remarkable equanimity and composure. Fortunately, we each have grown and matured through the years, and we each are capable of continued mental, emotional, and spiritual evolution. Others around us, like us, too will grow, and your disagreeable team member or family member may grow to be your best friend in just a few years.

But the easiest way to overcome intolerance is to think, speak and act from a place of love – this unconditional love being the foundation of all major religions and the antidote for all strife. But how do we love someone we can barely stand? Love comes naturally when we see that, regardless of a person’s beliefs or behaviours, each of us has God installed within us (known as Spirit in Christianity and Atma in Hinduism) and that, through this linking Spirit, we are all one – united through God. This principal concept is something worth meditating on, to bring it into our conscious awareness and have it assist us in opening our hearts, thereby allowing the peace that unconditional love brings to flow unimpeded into our lives. This core principle could then translate to practical and implementable thought processes and create a tolerable and even joyful workplace, family, and society.

So as you would want to be forgiven for your past indiscretions, ‘forgive those that trespass against us’, and always make room for each person’s evolution, for comradeship, and for the bond that we share through our humanity.

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Love more, live more – Unity Mama.