27 February 2011

Understanding Tolerance

Tolerance seems to be offered as a standard answer to almost everything these days. Our circumstances have changed dramatically with globalisation; you can’t just have the  convenient goods going about, but must also tolerate the people to cross the borders. How frustrating. They come to your area with their ways and now you must tolerate them.

No you don’t. Tolerance is not the solution. Tolerance creates hateful reactions in the long run.

Of course everyone all the time tolerate something. Some men stereotypically struggle to tolerate their mother in law and equally clich├ęd women find it difficult to tolerate their man’s friends who seemingly are more trouble than worth. A few generalised stereotypes to underline the frustration tolerance tends to involve. Tolerating things, as we all do everyday, leaves us feeling that we have to accommodate everything; that we’re the ones always having to compromise. It’s very typical for the tolerance to always feel like something I do, or we do, but the ones we are tolerating rest on their laurels waiting to be tolerated some more. No, they are also tolerating – compromising like that’s the meaning of life – unless we are very lucky and they are trying to understand. But the understanding of one side does little; if the other is still trying to tolerate they will sooner or later run out of this ‘good will’. After all toleration means how much we can endure something and the feelings that come with all this confuse the matter further. They make us feel like we are definitely losing out in whatever exchange is at hand. But feelings and reason are not the same thing. Therefore it is true that you feel that way, but not necessarily the supposition that you are actually losing out and that is why it is sometimes more important to address the feeling than the non-existing fact. It’s about being able to understand, or try at least.

So understanding is the better way. We must try to understand things without judgement if we can. If we can’t we are probably at best tolerating them. Understanding can vary from being able to relate to, imagine how to relate to (moral imagination) or just understanding that we cannot understand. It’s good to have the confidence to say, no, I don’t know how you feel and even if I do, I don’t know why. The sincere non-judgemental understanding is like thoroughly cleaning the house where as tolerance is hiding the dirty spoons and plates under the carpet and deciding to never again look into that one corner of the flat where the take away leftovers were left two weeks ago.

All this leaves still the worst options out there – to think that you understand when you don’t. As they say, fool thinks he knows. These ones tend to rank even below tolerating together with the ones who don't care about understanding or tolerating, but the point is, unlike many even quite progressive people think, tolerance is not a long term solution.

Things tolerated will always pop up eventually. Have a fall out with someone (don’t really; at least not on purpose) and find out what are the things that upset you most about them. The things that you never forgave, but only tolerated. Those are the things that you never understood or made peace with. Now that you are not trying to tolerate them anymore you see them pretty clearly. On the other hand there can be, rationally thinking, seemingly much worse things that happened, but those are fine, because you understood them. Or you understood that you can’t understand, but that there were circumstances. If you have ever experienced this, you might have an idea what I mean.

So the endless emphasis on cultural tolerance is a wrong way ticket. It is not simply semantics, but a real concern of meanings; what do we need to do? To understand or tolerate? My opinion is obvious at this point. And all this is not just about the coming together of cultures, but people in general. Any people. Because everyone already feels like they are compromising, not just you alone.

No comments: