In a world ridden with war, whole populations are fleeing hatred and violence and dispersing far and wide across our fragmented globe, only to be met with yet more hatred. The issues that we can all too easily witness (or turn a blind eye to, as the more common case may be) in the Calais refugee camps are just one example of this. In contemporary socio-political discourse, the notion of tolerance has become widely perceived as an antidote to hatred; the belief being that if only we could be more tolerant, and less judgemental or fearful of each others’ differences, then the world would be a far more peaceful place.
But given the current state of societies across the globe, it seems that pursuing widespread tolerance could actually be resulting in more intolerance. And the levels of intolerance are only set to raise if we are not prepared to tread more carefully. Multiculturalism is an admirable goal, but an irrevocably difficult one to reach authentically. Diversity and difference should be celebrated, there is no doubt about it, but the ‘correct’ path to peaceful diversity is ambiguous at best. As we seek to either assimilate or integrate multiple cultures seamlessly into one big happy democratic society, the impossibility of our goal becomes more and more clear. How can we simultaneously endorse such a plethora of opposing cultures, religions and ideologies, without certain aspects of each (and admittedly some more than others) having to be diminished? Inevitably, someone is not going to be happy; bitterness will likely develop and envy may all too easily transform into blame and hatred.
And is this not precisely what we are witnessing in modern democratic societies? We, the enlightened democratic citizens, seek to tolerate one another despite our vast differences, but have we not unwittingly fallen into the darker consequence of this goal? Thinly-veiled intolerance is spreading through our societies like a plague. The results of this plague can be seen all over the place, often manifesting itself as extreme nationalism. The most prevalent contemporary examples of this are Brexit in the UK, Putin in Russia and Trump in the US. Extreme nationalist ideas are often fuelled by tensions created between groups due to feelings of competition, envy and insecurity. And unfortunately, the world is becoming an increasingly insecure place.
So perhaps we need to readjust our way of thinking. Are we striding purposefully down the wrong path? Could the pursuit of humility be more appropriate? To practice humility implies holding a level of modesty with regards to ones own beliefs, whilst truly accepting that other beliefs may be equally as valid. On the other hand, to practice tolerance implies allowing others to hold their beliefs, whilst truly believing that yours are in some way superior. You, the holder of the correct values, kindly tolerate other’s views, much like how you might tolerate a child’s bizarre thoughts on the world. Humility then, encourages authentic equality; whereas tolerance dances on the edge of patronising permissiveness. And if every cultural or religious group is simply superficially tolerating those with whom they share their homeland, then is it really surprising that tensions would rise? Surely, striving for genuine humility, without judgement or envy, is a far more positive approach to take.
Featured photo courtesy of Dr. Wendy Longo via Flickr at https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/wtlphotos/424891303/in/search_QM_q_IS_Unity