One of the common words that we hippie-type people like to use is the word tolerance.  We need to be more tolerant.  I said it myself in my last post, but based on a discussion on that post I decided that it was worth investigating this concept of tolerance.  While I think many people derived a theme of being more tolerant towards Muslims, what I really meant to look at is what are better and worse ways of dealing with a difficult situation.  I’ve come to realize that often when I use the word tolerance, the meaning I hold to it is different than others.  And so maybe what I am suggesting is not tolerance at all, but something else.

Ahirhsa refers to non-violence

What I think we can agree on, is that tolerance is definitely not something we should always be doing.  We live in a very PC culture where we are being told constantly to be tolerant, but tolerance can lead to passiveness, and there are some things we should not tolerate or be passive about.  One could say that being intolerant has led to many important social changes.  When laws are unjust being tolerant of them isn’t getting you very far.  Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr are good examples of historical figures who were not very tolerant and accomplished great things for their people in the march towards equality and self-determination.  But then I also thought about the importance of context.  If laws are unjust, if there is oppression, then it is these practices that are intolerant.  And shouldn’t we be intolerant to practices that are intolerant.  For instance, if black people are not allowed to sit in certain restaurants this would be an example of a system which is not tolerant towards different races.  White people would not tolerate a black person sitting next to them while eating.  Did black people owe it to white people to be tolerant of their practices so as to not make them feel uncomfortable?  Of course not.  On the other side we could point to Kim Davis.  She doesn’t agree with a law that allows gay people marry.  The law is just because it gives equal rights to people of different sexual orientation, and doesn’t infringe on anybody’s ability to practice their own religion.  Thus we would ask Kim Davis to be tolerant.  Of course, whether it is people not wanting blacks in their restaurant, or gay people to marry, what we are really saying to those people is “you’re wrong, get used to it”.  We’re saying, your “intolerance, will no longer be tolerated”.  And I believe this is fair and this is right, but there is a little bit of a subtext there that says “You really should change your mind and agree with us, because other ways life is going to be pretty annoying for you”.  And again, I’m not saying this isn’t fair, but to the other person they would easily say that we are the intolerant ones of their views and why do they have to show tolerance and we don’t?  The word “tolerance”, at least to me, is sort of a confusing word when you think about it.

So going back to the issue of “banning the burka”, if I say tolerance is prudent, what does that mean?  First I think it’s important to note that tolerance of an action and condoning that action are different.  But if you are really against something, being tolerant and thus passive can be seen as equal as condoning it.  I think there is some truth to that, but it’s important to remember that not all people would fight a battle in the same way. Some methods of fighting are more effective and/or cause less overall harm. Kim Davis’ beliefs may make her decide that she should not tolerate what she’s sees as an unjust law and she is welcome to fight it.  However there are better and worse ways to do such a thing, and the choice she has made is ultimately ineffective, and denies legal rights to fellow citizens.  The burka or niqab is a troubling practice.  Women have become so oppressed in some countries that many of them are even complicit with that oppression and would feel real spiritual pain by not following what they believe to be true regarding their value compared to men.  Should we tolerate such gender equality?  The answer once again is, of course not.  However should we be tolerant towards women wearing the burka?  Then I would say yes, but I would say that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about it.  So maybe when we ask for tolerance, what we really mean is patience and careful thought.  Let’s not have knee-jerk reactions that are governed by our fears, but let’s take actions that are based on our love and compassion.  The fight for gender equality is really one about love and compassion.  Telling women that they have equal freedom and value as men in society is just that.  Freedom of religion is also one of love and compassion because it says to people that you are allowed to keep your beliefs and that the law will not dictate what you must believe.   No one else wants their beliefs infringed on so why should we pass laws that infringe on others? Of course that doesn’t mean that you can come into a country and expect that a belief structure that by design causes harm to another group will be easily tolerated, especially when that country has fought long and hard to try and erode the traditions you still hold on to.   At the same time, you may also expect that new laws shouldn’t be passed that specifically target you for doing what you were raised culturally to accept as normal.   I think it’s also important that when we oppose certain cultural practices that we consider immoral, that we don’t reject an entire a culture.  Cultural practices are not homogeneous and thus are not all bad or all good.  At the very least some practices may cause no harm at all and thus we should be tolerant of those.

What we are really after, therefore, is a way in which we can present a group of people who have morally unsound practices with a better way of living.  In the case of the severe oppression of women in some Islamic countries, a proactive way of doing this is to empower women.  Self-determination goes a much longer way in affecting change than oppressive laws.  And while it would be nice to have men on the same side, many will resist due to the fact that they will be losing a position of privilege in their society, but ultimately just as the fight for equality here in the U.S. has required the support of men, so will it need to be the case in Islam.  One possible way in which we can appeal to the rational in both men and women would be to offer education into the development of children.  This article was shared with me by Victoria over at VictoriaNeuronotes and discusses the important of babies being able to see facial expression in their mother.  From the article:

Teacher Maryam Khan, says: “Working with young children, so much is read just from facial expressions, you don’t have to speak to a child.

“If they can’t see your face, they don’t know what you’re thinking – a glare, a smile.”

Psychologists agree. “It’s particularly true for children under five because their communication is non-verbal, they’re much better at reading it than adults,” says Dr. Lewis. “If they’re denied these signals they become quite confused.”

If, when in public, the mother’s face is always covered, this has an adverse impact on a baby’s mood and reactions to situations.  The YouTube video below demonstrates this impact clearly.  And there may be other things that we can discuss with them such as the importance of sunlight to pregnant mothers and babies for Vitamin D.  Given that a love of children is cross-cultural and people generally want the best for children, this seems like a proactive way to change minds by connecting with men and women emotionally through the love they have their children, while presenting also a rational argument for the value of not covering your face.  What’s best is that is also reveals the best about us.  We aren’t trying to persecute anyone, we are showing another culture, our value of education, our shared love of children and wanting the best for them, and that what we want is a conversation and an exchange of ideas, not forcing a behavior through a punitive law.  It also shows another culture that we have humility.  That we too had practices that were not always beneficial and through the act of investigation and learning we have grown to become more loving and compassionate.

As I ponder more about the word tolerance, the more it seems like a word that isn’t overly descriptive.  Because within the idea of tolerance is an implication that one isn’t happy or supportive of a particular behavior and that in some cases, when a particular behavior is harmful we would rather do something about that behavior.  What it does not imply is a hasty reaction.  We can be patient and thoughtful, and act in away that is inclusive and not exclusive.  We can act in a way that is proactive and not adversarial.  In the end, I believe, such tactics are more successful.

17 thoughts on “Tolerance

  1. Tolerance is such a loaded word. My racist homophobic parents told me I was intolerant. Their accusation was more than likely true, just that we saw things differently.

    I think you are correct that tolerance should not equal passivity, whether it is regarding women’s rights or any other minority group.

    Tolerance, acceptance of different thoughts, and removing discrimination are all different shades of the same rainbow. Sometimes though, we can’t pick out the colours. For want of a better metaphor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was a good metaphor! 🙂 And I agree. I think tolerance is especially hard in regards to things that seem to have no genuine basis in something real. For instance to be asked to accepting of people’s views on homosexuals it is not enough to just accept that someone thinks a certain way simply because they believe it to be true, or that they consider the Bible to be an authority on how homosexuals should be regarded. When a kid asks “Why?”, it is never a sufficient response to say “Because I said so”. The question “Why?” requires more explanation than that, and I think we naturally want things explained better. But when you get used to that authoritarian answer, you become more accepting and critical thinking shuts down. In the case of the niqab or burka one could argue towards modesty being the reason, and then this is the beginning of a discussion because we can talk about what modesty means, what a person’s rights are regarding how they want to display modest, if it all, whether there are alternate solutions to being modest, etc. When it’s simply coined “well this is what my religion tells me to do”, discussion is halted and this is never a good position to be in.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Swarn, I appreciate this post more than words can express.Thank you!

    Adam Lee, a contributing writer for Big Think, wrote:

    “The reality is that sincere religious beliefs and legitimate interpretations of scripture can, and very often do, cause immense evil and harm. And when a more enlightened future age arrives to tote up the harms done by religion, I am certain that the systematic oppression and denial of basic rights to one-half of the human race will rank near the top.”

    Many of our social ills stem directly from the way women are treated and/or living in distressed environments, and this, in turn, directly impacts children’s health and brain development, even in utero.

    “More than two decades of research on maternal distress, mother-infant interaction, and infant and child developmental outcomes have shown that infants suffer when a parent is distressed.

    Maternal prenatal anxiety has been shown to predict behavior problems in the children at age 4 years (O’Connor, Heron, Golding, Beveridge, & Glover, 2002).

    In your comment to Kate, you wrote: ” When it’s simply coined “well this is what my religion tells me to do”, discussion is halted and this is never a good position to be in.”

    Well said. I’d like to add that there are Muslim men who are trying to educated their fellow Muslims on the actual interpretations of the Qur’an. According to this Muslim site, Hijab in the Qur’an has nothing to do with a woman’s dress code. It further states that the Qur’an does not specifically mention the burqa or tell women to wear such extremely confining clothes. Instead, it instructs men and women to dress and behave modestly in society (24:31). He also posts the dress code noted in the Qur’an.

    I think one of the ways Muslim women can become empowered is through education about their own religion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your insightful comment. I suspect like a lot of things, these things just take time to build momentum and that Islam will change eventually. I had read that about Burka not actually being in the Quran and it’s good to know that there people trying to bring about an enlightenment in the Muslim world. I think we can do a better job supporting this change, because it feels like most of the time the west with their waging of war, and trying to pass oppressive laws against Muslim people isn’t helping.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. …and there are some things we should not tolerate or be passive about.

    Hear hear!!! And with that Mahatma Gandhi eventually and gave his life, or rather it was taken from him & the world like so many other philanthropic social activists. I will address “giving your life” for a cause in a bit.

    The word “tolerance”, at least to me, is sort of a confusing word when you think about it.

    Various degrees of social tolerance are the order of the day; flexibility by ALL. A good example might be traffic lights or traffic laws; they are needed and should/must be tolerated! But there are needed degrees. With your burka example Swarn, I imagined how I would tolerate — in different scenarios — a sign on the front entrance of a Quick-Mart or 7-Eleven store that states: “No Shirt. No Shoes. No Service.” If it is a man without those items on, I’m fine with the store-owners right to refuse service; there are social etiquettes which demonstrate appropriate general public respect. I like that. However, and I am going to really reveal part of my nature here 😛 …if that patron were a WOMAN (a very attractive woman!) with no shirt, shoes are irrelevant, then I am SO VERY okay with her…rather watching her do business! Yes, I am or would be a (proudly?) walking-contradiction in that situation. 😉

    So maybe when we ask for tolerance, what we really mean is patience and careful thought. Let’s not have knee-jerk reactions that are governed by our fears, but let’s take actions that are based on our love and compassion.

    Mmm, I think you hit the proverbial nail squarely on the head here Swarn! Well said. One of my favorite quick quotes apropos for your sentitment there: “Think twice, speak once.”

    Returning to my “giving your life” for a cause, is sometimes (most times?) the deciding factor for “tolerance” or “intolerance”. And fear of death, or perhaps the fear of extended torture by your oppressors, causes so much fear that “tolerance” becomes enslavement. Death should be better understood, including after-life! “Death” is often given WAY TOO MUCH gravity, much more than it ever deserved. Death shouldn’t be feared, or if so, merely as the transition that it is.

    The fear of Death (or how one dies in relation to a different life afterwards) has allowed immeasurable atrocities to the human race for far too long. Further explanation of what I mean is probably required, but for these comment-purposes here, too long.

    Excellent post Swarn! Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comments Professor! I agree that we fear death far too much and the methods to allay that fear have often been destructive. I think ultimately we just need to focus on living, and hopefully living a live with meaning so that worry less about death and worry less about having regrets at the end of our life, which I think is ultimately the worse crime to ourselves. Death is evitable, but a fulfilling life is not, thus there is only one thing worth worrying about. 🙂

      In regards to your comment about the topless shopper, I’m not going to say anything and just let Victoria and RoughSeas take care of you there. Good luck! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think the word “tolerance” had been sidelined and the issue is one of semantics. It seems to me that tolerance is often equated with acceptance, but to be tolerant, by definition, is *not* to accept/approve/condone whatever it is you’re being tolerant towards.

    There are all kinds of things we tolerate as a society that we know are extremely damaging: alcoholism, marital infidelity, old people driving, but a fraction of a percent of women want to cover their faces…it’s a free country.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree…acceptance and tolerance are not the same. I think it’s correct to tolerate many things that might be problematic to a person or society, simply because legality is not the issue. I think there are plenty of people who fight drug abuse, just as there are plenty of people who would fight gender inequality, but changings laws is not always the best way to bring the change you want to see.


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