Moving Beyond Tolerance to Respect
In a personal revelation today, I realized it is not enough to just "tolerate" our differences. Although many activist organizations proclaim "tolerance" as their motto, "tolerance" is really not enough to secure peace. "Respect" is one step beyond "tolerance," and true peace on earth, and in our communities, requires respect. Or as Einstein said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
Moving Beyond Tolerance to Respect
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
In a personal revelation today, I realized it is not enough to just "tolerate" our differences. Although many activist organizations proclaim "tolerance" as their motto, "tolerance" is really not enough to secure peace. "Respect" is one step beyond "tolerance," and true peace on earth, and in our communities, requires respect.
"Tolerance" implies you are enduring something unpleasant. To say you "tolerate" someone is not a compliment like saying you "respect" someone is. Webster's dictionary defines "tolerance" as "a sympathy...for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one's own." It also defined "tolerance" as an attained resistance, such as a drug tolerance.
These 3 definitions of "tolerance" are quite different. The "endurance" definition is somewhat insulting, I think. The "attained resistance" slant is interesting when applied to social interactions, but the "sympathy for conflicting views" definition intrigues me most.
It is "conflicting views" that creates problems, for sure. For me, personally, and also in the bigger world view, it is how we deal with people whose views directly conflict with ours that creates enemies and causes wars. It is not exactly clear how two absolutely conflicting views can co-exist. I guess if the conflicts are merely philosophical, this is plausible. But when conflicts involve physical materials, such as land, co-existing conflicting viewpoints don't work. It is a zero sum game in many of these situations. People go hungry, people are arrested for homelessness, due to this zero sum game.
Certainly people cannot be expected to "respect" the people who exploit and oppress them, so how does that work? These are some of the central problems I have with the "peace movement" in general. It seems to me that respect, not just tolerance, is necessary for actual peace. Perhaps people need to stop oppressing and exploiting each other before we can move from tolerance to respect, and then on to peace.
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein
I began to think about who I feel this "tolerance" attitude towards. I realized I feel I need to "tolerate" authority figures. Yet interestingly, I realized I respect *some* authority figures, and give them the respect of an elder. I do not "tolerate" authority that I "respect." Instead, I respect that authority. Not one of these authority figures I respect got my respect through physical coercion or violence. Examples of this difference between respect and tolerance are as different as my feelings between professors I loved or my midwives, and violent riot police.
Webster's dictionary defines "respect" as "to consider worthy of high regard" and also "to refrain from interfering with..." So perhaps "tolerance" could be defined as "to consider worthy of low or little regard?" "Respect" has this "refraining from interference" definition, and "tolerance" had a "sympathy for conflicting views" definition, which makes me wonder if part of the difference between respect and tolerance is a belief in one's competence. "Tolerance" involves not having a faith in the person one is conflicting with, but accepting their ignorance, so to speak. "Respect," on the other hand, seems to reflect a certain faith in the person's competence, thus one's refraining from interference.
Recently I met several people I was extremely different than, philosophically, yet I had profound respect for them. I realized I was willing to forgive differences with them, I did not forgive in others I merely "tolerated." Which is why I say maybe "respect" is about trust, about trusting a person's judgment, having faith in their own competence, even if you don't understand their choices. Where "tolerance" implies you feel you understand their situation better than the other person, so you "tolerate" their ignorance. "Respect" infers the other may know something, may see something, you are not seeing. "Tolerance" infers you see more of the picture than the other; it is about pity or sympathy for their ignorance.
I saw today that I have different behaviors with people I "respect" and people I "tolerate." And it really got me thinking. Can peace be found between communities, or even countries, that merely "tolerate," but do not "respect" each other? Is "tolerance" the minimum required for peace in our communities, on our earth, or is "respect" the minimum requisite? Does "tolerance" lead to "respect?" I am not convinced it does. How do we foster "respect," not just "tolerance," for people we conflict with? Is that even possible? What if we can't learn to "respect" each other on this planet? Will "tolerance" alone save us from WWIII?
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