Indian society has always been considered tolerant, compared to most others; and we tend to give credit to our multi-faceted lineage and our upbringing where we have been taught Vasudeva Kutumbakkam “the entire world is my family”. I am forever intrigued by the variability in tolerance different people and organizations show. And so exploring this here. Look forward to others’ views as we all have different perspectives and experiences on this important topic. Tolerance is defined as the capacity or practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs/practices of others. And we all know that differences abound!! In fact differences make life so enjoyable – colorful and rich!! And yet some differences get so deep rooted, and seemingly irreconcilable, that tolerance goes out of the window. When and why does that happen? is a worthwhile inquiry.
Etymologically “tolerance” word was first used in the 15th century. Derived from endurance and fortitude, the word was first used to to describe “having permission from the authorities”. Of course well before the 15th century enough examples of tolerance were seen and expounded. Cyrus the Great released the Jews from captivity and allowed them to return to their homeland. The Roman empire was known to allow the conquered people to continue to worship their own Gods. In the Old Testament Book of Exodus 22:21 says: “Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him”. Tolerance personified?
Hindu philosophy was always about inclusion and respecting diversity. Vishnu Purana and the various avatars of Vishnu show that we readily accepted Fishes and Tortoises and Boars (Matsya, Koorma, Varaha) as God. This transitioned into a half man half animal Narasimha avatar; before moving to a human representation of Vishnu as Vamana then Parshurama, Rama and so on. The challenge to the Hindu philosophy epitomized by the Buddha and his philosophy was dealt with by subsuming even Buddha as one of the avatars of Vishnu in some Hinduism texts! In this context and background the intolerance that we see today in the name of religion is oftentimes saddening. In pursuit of the most laudable and lofty objective of going closer to God, how can we get divided so deeply into sects and castes and be at loggerheads with one who does not follow my discipline, my reality, my God?
This same approach we see in our housing societies and clubs. Deep chasms develop quickly and we tend to see differences as unbridgeable gaps. “If you are not with us then you are against us” is the prevalent philosophy. Rather than understand and reconcile differences, people start taking joy in accentuating differences and holding forth the differences as opposing flags and rallying cries to deepen the intervening valleys further!! We seem to have forgotten the edict from the Holy Koran: “There are a thousand ways to reach the Allah”. No one path is right: all roads lead to the same end. So tolerance and mutual understanding should be our guiding star.
Even commercial organizations which should be driven together by common goals and objectives see the same intolerance of alternate and different opinions. That is why you hear of bosses who say ” My way or the highway”. Recently I came across a cartoon where a Boss is addressing his team and tells them “I like people who in their own individual manner find a way of saying ‘Boss you are right’ “. Many of us will recollect the group think that emerges when such bosses are around. People don’t give their opinions as they feel it will serve no purpose whatsoever. Rather it will isolate and identify me in the eyes of the dictatorial boss and expose me to more pain. So the intelligent and creative subordinate becomes quiet and withdrawn, tolerant of the mayhem around him, biding the time when he can move on to a more open culture, a more accepting team, a more tolerant boss.
I was fortunate to work in an organization with had multiple lines of business. And at one time saw two totally contradictory styles of management. One Boss was loud and unforgiving. He loved the sound of his own voice. He held “durbars” and not meetings. His meetings had a start time but never any defined end time. People were summoned and tortured. Laughed at if their opinion differed from that of the boss. The other SBU Head however encouraged dissent. He made it clear his was one opinion but the final decision would be taken jointly. All functions were involved in every cross functional matter. Understanding and blending different perspectives was the preferred way forward. He truly believed and practiced tolerance and mutual respect. No prizes for guessing which SBU head did well and which SBU head soon found himself out of a job, out of a team, out of the company.
Today corporate reality or even social and familial reality for that matter has become so complex and involved that no one can claim full expertise or knowledge. In this context, ability to hear differing opinions and blending sometimes contradictory approaches, to fashion a creatively new solution, is the only way to survive. There is only one verb tolerate and one adjective tolerant but the two nouns Tolerance and Toleration have both come to acquire different meanings. As parents we must understand that the highest result of education is tolerance. Our parenting must be full of examples when we can tell our children ( and our corporate teams) “I do not like X but I am ok if you do it” OR “I like Y but I am ok if you do not do it”. The day we do this with equanimity we have understood tolerance.
A la Voltaire let us remember, we are all formed of frailty and error: let us pardon reciprocally, each other’s folly!!!!
May acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness alter your life: vikas