From an early age we have to learn how to live with others peacefully and how to respect them for the people they are, even if they are quite different from us. Our level of acceptance for their feelings, beliefs and values isn’t something inborn; we learn about it from our parents and the example they give. Tolerance is taught from an early age, which is one reason why it may be hard to correct a well-formed character later. It is a quality that is still underappreciated, or even seen more as a weakness. A tolerant person is grounded and pays close attention to the effect of its choices on the environment, getting a better sense of how it fits into it, which leads to better appreciation for the goodness even in the small moments. Treating others well isn’t seen as an obligation that comes from the outside, but as an internal, unconscious wish to make it more likely that we receive similar treatment in return. In the moment of action, we rarely think about how tolerant it is—we just behave as if this word doesn’t even exist. We also rarely use it later to describe how we felt. But this isn’t an excuse to understand it in a very narrow sense.
Being tolerant opens us to everyone and enables us to see more positives than negatives in the world around us. By talking with people, who have different opinions, we learn to accept them without being judgemental. We learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, which enables us to see our own shortcomings, to learn and to improve in a way that is more consistent with who we want to be. As a side effect, this opens more opportunities for us.
Being tolerant doesn’t just mean to accept others, to do no harm or to be nonviolent. It also means to be with others, especially at important moments, to support and enable the path they have chosen. To try to understand them, to find commonalities, to share, to keep their uniqueness, to actively seek their voice, even to be grateful to them.
It is said that with greater diversity, greater levels of tolerance are required. But diversity in itself can hardly make people more tolerant if they don’t want to change. This can come only from their inside, which is why practicing good behavior in small deeds can help in preparing us for bigger ones.
Being tolerant to people from other cultures is especially important when we may not be able to understand their outlook or behavior. The other day I saw a photo of someone who placed all shoes near the only bed in a room. The room wasn’t too small to imply that there was no space left. My initial thought was: “This is really stupid. Do they choose their shoes immediately after they wake up? Do they sleep with their shoes on?”. I was judging someone by a simple photo, which wasn’t right. Becoming emotional in our response is the fastest way to make the wrong decision. When I saw that this was a person from another culture, it became clear to me that I was the stupid one. If I have tried to understand first why this person does it, I could have found a better explanation. Challenging my current beliefs, I saw the photo as a reason to rethink whether my choice was necessarily better, even if it is universally accepted here.
In the first day of the this year, I had the pleasure the watch the film “Jodhaa-Akbar”, made in India, 2008. I rarely watch a film for its entire duration, not because I dislike films, but because they rarely seem to speak to me. Usually, I spend around 5-10mins and then do something else, if I’m not interested in watching more. But this time it was different, and I could stand not only 90mins, but the full length (over 4 hours, Wikipedia says 303mins). I watched a film that was culturally interesting, and at the same time appealed to both visual and auditory senses equally well. The story is also great and is said to be based on a real case. What is special about the movie is the way it teaches us to be more tolerant, patient, humble. This is done in some subtle, even unexpected ways. It reminds us that we can’t live together without fully understanding the other side. The movie seems to have the right balance of feelings (joy, seriousness, anger, love), which is a sign for me that it was designed as a whole. I already miss the great colors and music, but I hope to be able to watch it again. If you still haven’t seen it, I can only recommend it.
We need to grow our tolerance for others every day and to let its levels touch somewhere in the middle, if we want to feel united and not divided and distant. There is a huge need for tolerance in the world right now.