Teaching Tolerance

Dogs bark at people they do not know

The title of this article comes from a saying of Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher (540?- 475? BC). He wasn't talking about dogs, but our tendency to fear and suspect strangers. When this fear solidifies, it is known as bigotry, prejudice, and intolerance, and it is the source of many problems in the world. I've written about tolerance in the past, but because the subject is important, I now wish to go into more detail. Why is it so important? Because it is the first step to enlightenment, or higher consciousness. If humanity is to survive, we need to do better; we need to be better; we need to act as enlightened beings. We begin our journey on the road to peace by becoming tolerant. Tolerance rests on the six pillars of unconditional acceptance, receptivity, humility, courage, serenity, and knowledge.

1. Unconditional acceptance.
Did you ever look at someone and think that they were idiotic, ugly, or fat? Did you think someone was a jerk because of their tattoos, body piercings, or punk hairstyle? Did you consider someone to be inferior because of their sexual orientation, political leanings, or religious belief? These are all examples of intolerance. We have the nasty habit of judging others and labeling them. What would you call someone who gave you their opinion of a book that they haven't read? Perhaps, stupid? But isn't that what we do when we judge others without knowing anything about them?

Why are we so mean? We're not mean; we're insecure. We have weaknesses that we don't like and try to cope by making fun of others. Or, as Clint Eastwood has said, "I'm interested in the fact that the less secure a man is, the more likely he is to have extreme prejudice." You see, we mistakenly believe that if we put others down, it will elevate us. But, of course, that's not true. Just the opposite happens. After all, we're not stupid. We know what we're doing is unfair and wrong. And because we know this, we feel worse, not better.

Judging others in itself is not wrong; it is the manner in which we judge them that is wrong. Practice judging others correctly. You do so by realizing that they are the same as you. They share the same fears and joys, the same insecurities and talents. They have the same needs for support, understanding, and recognition. So, instead of belittling them, encourage them; instead of laughing at them, laugh with them. When you start acting like a decent human being, what do you suppose happens? You feel better! You boost your self-esteem. And as you do so, your insecurities diminish, making you more tolerant. In other words, by acting as if you were tolerant, you become so! Help yourself by learning how to accept others unconditionally. Learn how to be nonjudgmental and stop labeling others or yourself.

2. Receptivity
Tolerance is not negative. It is not about putting up with something unpleasant. It is positive. It is about warmly embracing diversity. It's about being receptive to new ideas and customs. Because in diversity there is strength. Iron is pliable and easily rusts, but when combined with carbon, nickel, chromium, and manganese, it becomes hard and resistant to rusting. Mankind is the same. Whether it is on the biological, sociological, or political level, we become stronger by commingling or blending.

3. Humility
The tolerant person is humble enough to realize that truth is shared. Despite what others say, our group does not have a monopoly on the truth. Why do many others have an opinion that differs from ours? Common sense says that when many people believe something to be true, there must be some truth in their belief. Joseph Addison agreed, for he wrote, "A man must be both stupid and uncharitable who believes there is no virtue or truth but on his own side." If our beliefs differ, where is the truth? Most likely somewhere between both extremes. This is another example of how diversity is strength. For when we combine our different beliefs, we get closer to the ultimate truth.

4. Courage
Some find it difficult to accept that the truth is shared by all. For example, let's assume there are six of us chatting over coffee. Each of us has a different belief: we are Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, and agnostic. Do you have the courage to admit your companions are equally close to the truth, or perhaps even closer than you are? Do you have the need to believe your faith is the only true faith, or do you have the fearlessness to live with uncertainty? Those who have the strength to live with incertitude soon discover the beauty of mystery. They realize the beliefs of man are like the sparkling surface of the ocean, mere reflections of the sun. Our puny minds can no more grasp the truth than our eyes can gaze directly into the sun. The reflections on the surface of the sea are for us to enjoy and learn from. They point to a reality we cannot see and interpret differently. Let's appreciate and respect each other's attempt to make sense of the world.

5. Serenity
Tolerant people are at peace with themselves. They can listen to and discuss issues without getting emotional. Whether the subject is the path to salvation, animal rights, abortion, homelessness, or East Timor, the tolerant person can speak without name-calling or expressing anger. He or she is always mindful that the truth is shared and listens with compassion.

6. Knowledge
"Wait a minute! What do you mean by saying the truth is shared? Either God exists or He doesn't exist; there's no in-between! Either abortion is murder or it isn't! Don't you agree?" No, I don't. In the example about God, both the atheist and the theist may be equally close to the truth. That is, God may exist, but God may not exist as He is now imagined to be. Regarding abortion, let's say I'm a Pro-Lifer (a reasonable assumption since I was raised a Catholic). Let's also assume that I wish to be tolerant, but can't understand how others find abortion acceptable. Well, what I could do is research the subject. After doing so, I might be surprised to learn that many respected scholars, scientists, and doctors disagree with the "abortion equals murder" hypothesis.

Besides, I may be startled to learn that in its middle period and for hundreds of years, the Catholic Church taught that abortion was not sinful if performed before the soul entered the fetus. And when does the soul enter the fetus? According to the teachings then, it was after 30 days with boys and after 60 days with girls. Now, after learning these facts, and much more, I may still believe that abortion is wrong, but I would also realize that those with opposing views are not demons and have reasons for their beliefs. So, knowledge is an important ingredient of tolerance. True, prejudice is a great time-saver, for it enables us to form opinions without bothering to get facts, but I think we want to rise above that. Don't you agree?

© Chuck Gallozzi
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