With the current rise of the right in Europe and the election of an orange fascist in America, the importance of tolerance needs to be discussed in public more than ever.
Racial hatred, sexism and homophobia are becoming more and more prevalent in the Western world; it’s time we took a stock check of our sensibilities before we slide backward into the mud and slurry of the dark ages.
Tolerance is the only way a community can thrive together. Without it, rifts will grow and segregation will become the norm. Tolerance gives us the chance to learn about others, expand our minds and live more peacefully. What’s not to like?
Intolerance, however it starts, breeds misunderstanding and partitions. And when walls grow in between people in a group, class, society, or culture, bad blood rushes in to fill the gaps.
More than ever in my life, my country and other Western countries need to relearn what “tolerance” means. I say “relearn” because, until recently, everyone was heading in the right direction (it seemed). But with fascism coming back in vogue and demagogues becoming the new leader of choice, tolerance has been kicked aside.
(To be fair, I say that Western society was becoming more tolerant. But I, and many others, were wrong. We didn’t realise there was a brooding underbelly of disenfranchisement waiting to burst open.)
So, in every day situations, how can we develop our own personal levels of tolerance? You might say that you aren’t the one who needs to grow their tolerance levels – I’m inclined to agree, but we need to lead by example. A shouting match rarely leads to a won argument. No one ever changes their minds after being verbally slammed. It just hardens their resolve and thickens their skin.
In the dark days ahead, we will need to be tolerant and also hope beyond hope that those who are descending into a right-wing parallel universe decide to try a little tolerance themselves.
Empathy Is The Key
Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is the key to a happy, harmonious human culture. It really is the be all and end all of human tolerance. If you can, successfully, imagine what someone else is going through and estimate how they might be feeling, you can understand why they might be doing what they’re doing.
For instance, the white masses in America that voted for Trump are (in general) not very well off. Their subsection of the country has been stamped upon by successive generations of politicians. They are angry.
We need to develop our understanding of what others think and feel.
This cuts both ways, of course. People who are considering shifting to a more racist stance need to think about how the people they plan to repress feel about their situation.
Ask yourself – are they so different from me? Do they have it any better than I do? What would I do in their shoes? Why are they here, and why am I here? How did this start? Who is to blame?
Empathy allows us to build a common ground. It helps us to speak calmly to each other when we sit at polar opposite sides of an argument.
Ask For An Explanation
When we disagree with someone, it is tempting to run straight in with a huge slice of “NO, BUT…”
Like I said earlier, shouting someone down won’t win them over to your point of view; it’s more likely to polarise them towards the opposition.
Rather than shout back, rather than get uppity, rather than make bad jokes – ask questions. And, ask them sincerely – that’s important. Find out what they actually mean by what they say, find out how they know something to be true, ask them to explain their stance in more detail.
This can be beneficial in many ways. If they explain their point well, it will give you a better understanding of where they are coming from, and will encourage empathy and develop your insight.
Another way in which being inquisitive can help is that it might demonstrate to them the holes in their own argument. Many people, especially people who are angry, have arrived at their stance through a snap decision. Either that or they have been badly informed by a friend, family member (or Fox News).
Once you gently push people, you get them to pause for a moment and re-evaluate. Your tolerance might just breed tolerance in others – it might not breed tolerance either, but at least you will have kept your end of the bargain.
Developing A Tolerant Outlook
Sadly, tolerance has become known as “bleeding heart liberalism,” a strange phrase which seeks to demonise understanding and giving a shit about other people. If you are a tolerant person, looking to make changes in yourself and others for the good of the world, having a tolerant outlook is the only way forward.
It is something that can be developed on an ongoing basis. Never stop looking to understand the ways in which others differ.
Some of us already care about other people; many do not. If you are reading this, the likelihood is that you are (relatively) wealthy, i.e. you can afford food and shelter. You are also more likely to be white than any other race. These two factors mean that we have it easier than others – in general.
We need to remember that by focusing on empathy and patience, and controlling our emotions, we can have a positive effect on society. The effect, on an individual level, will be small and slow, but it counts and it can grow. It has a minor impact on the way people perceive us, the way we perceive people, and the way people understand the actual issues.
Most important of all: get informed. Learn your history, understand politics, and get involved.