Zero tolerance

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

25 Replies to “Zero tolerance”

  1. totally in sync with what you say and what goes well with ‘Tolerance’ is ‘Adaptability ‘ & ‘Patience’ – easy to remember as TAP! I often come across successful leaders with abundant TAP. Thank you.

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  2. Mr. Shirodkar, You have addressed a very relevant topic. If intolerance was just an emotion or an idea, it would not have mattered so much, though repugnant. Unfortunately, intolerance could become an extremely potent driving force responsible for hatred and violence. Social Sciences could throw light on certain issues associated with intolerance. 1) What are the causative factors for intolerance and why do certain people, readily, fall prey to this? 2) What kind of educational inputs are required for bringing about more tolerant and loving people? These thoughts came to my mind, when I read your article.

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    1. Dr Shenaz thanks for your comment and feedback. Yes intolerance goes beyond a mere emotion or idea but rather becomes powerful enough to shape and direct out behavior/thoughts/views. That really causes so much of avoidable angst and deep fissures amongst people. I agree that Social Sciences can go into the causative nature. But today we do not see much work being done to ensure that the new generations are brought up and taught different approaches. Hope some time we reach there.

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  3. Well written, Vikas.
    I find conflicts in societies arising only when ‘tolerance’ is perceived as a weakness by people advancing their own narratives and agendas.
    Tolerance is actually a strength.
    As long as tolerance to others’ view point is respected by both sides, progress is achieved.

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    1. Vish cant agree more. Tolerance is a strength. and intolerance is a big weakness. Unfortunately in the world we live in throwing your weight around and appearing self sufficient and complete ( even when one is not) is considered an “in” thing. In these times tolerance and acceptance actually acquires more significance. Hope people understand this and become more open and accepting.

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  4. Beautifully written sir !
    The coverage of the concept of intolerance from the religious and today’s corporate perspective gave me deep insights. The article has really helped me to understand the concept well.
    Thanks !

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    1. Thanks Ashay
      this is a new found love of mine. I feel happy when people like what I have written. Do check out the ones I have written earlier on my father my mother and on my daughter Rashmi I think you will enjoy those too

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  5. Great to see this topic being put out there and I am glad i havent faced such bosses yet. Hehe. How much tolerance should an employee have though? When does s/he say enough is enough? Most shy away from sharing opinions as you rightly pointed out. Sadly there are pol who claim they know it all and don’t grow or let others do so either. Only solution to this is… “Khud ko kar buland itna…”

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    1. Ameya Office situations often get politicized and a stand gets taken which may or may not be in the best long term interest of the people involved.
      My main thesis was that tolerance need not be passive behavior. Intolerance is not always wrong. We need to find a right way through all this. Maybe the solution lies in Khudi ko kar itna bulund…. but then one should not throw ones weigh when bulund and also not become insensitive to others’ opinions. As long as we do this I think we will land on our feet and move ahead together

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  6. Great insight into a very relevant topic in today’s times. You have elucidated well (through religious texts, history, corporate/personal examples) the importance of being tolerant. Two things come to my mind in relation to tolerance: “Respect” and “Courage”. Respect is the key to the door of tolerance and it takes a great deal of courage to say “no” to things that can cause intolerance.
    I believe that if you grow up in a family that tolerates differing point of views, you tend to be more considerate and it reinforces the fact that diversity expands horizons. It helps one see early in life that truth usually is somewhere between what “you” think and “what” others believe.
    Looking at the larger picture, India has always been a land of acceptance and assimilation. People have in the past reached out across various lines of acrimony, but unfortunately the same cannot be said with certitude today. There seems to be a general intolerance- be it movies/books/satire/alternative sexual identity/political views etc….and somewhere in this debate, we seem to be losing the very essence of living a peaceful contented life…..

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    1. Deepa
      I must confess that I get some help about topics. Some friends and well wishers are around who point me in the right direction. So can’t take credit for the timely and relevant topic. Need to share that with my adviser.
      I agree with what you have said. Mutual Respect underlies tolerance. And yes we need to get this learning from our early days.
      The best and most common example I see is how ladies are treated in families and by their husbands and children. The intolerance of some of the MCPs is to be seen to be believed. They still treat their wives as Chattel a la the Elizabethan times. I have seen children who think their mothers have no purpose in life than looking after them. They do not realize how much of intolerance they show in their behavior. I believe this is partly fueled by the “tolerance” and quiet acceptance of the wives/mothers as to how they are being treated.
      But then in India we believe we have multiple lives for justice to be done and so we are also very “tolerant” and accepting of “wrong” behaviors. Look at the difference between our society and the West. How clearly they value Respect and have the Courage to stand up against intolerant behavior.
      Sometimes I think tolerance is wrong. We should gather the courage to become far more intolerant!!!

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  7. So well put!

    While intolerance is not acceptable, but one should also be able to put across his differing view. Else, silence can be taken as either acquiescence or as weakness…

    These days, intolerance is a new catchword and presenting a different or dissenting view is itself taken as “intolerance”.

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  8. This propaganda of intolerance is being carried on by the English media, In real life we rarely come across such occurrences. Well attricuralated blog.

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  9. This propaganda of intolerance is being carried on by the English media. In real life we rarely come across such occurrences. well attricuralated blog.

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    1. Chinchu yes there is some bluster which is added by the media. In smaller towns/villages possibly the discrimination is much less. I remember in our village in Konkan there was NO DIFFRENCE between Muslim Hindu and Christian households. We all lived and moved together. I first understood and experienced the Bramhinical attitudes when I was in MA in University hostel. Our parents and family taught us equality above all. Unfortunately that learning is missing today. We need to get it back

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  10. I guess because India has such diversity in terms of communities, religions, languages, garb, cuisines, etc., the need for tolerance has always been there. Other countries are not that blessed hence they are struggling.

    However, even in India, true acceptance of this diversity still eludes us. We are basically a judgmental society and have to stereotype people into neat compartments. The day we stop judging and segregating, we will reach an acceptable level of tolerance.

    Tolerance has various levels too. Tolerating a muslim in one’s society and wishing him on occasions is one. The next level is eating biryani at his place. And last one is welcoming a Muslim into the family through marriage with one’s kin. I believe we are still a long way away from the last one. And it’s not just one way.

    I guess if one does not give importance to something it stops being important. The wolf that is fed, grows. Hence, feed the wolf of acceptance, tolerance, adaptability.

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    1. Yes I agree we are naturally better placed for tolerance as we grow up in diversity. Of course still we have issues about intercaste marriages. Muslim Hindu to door ki baat hai. Know so many other cases where this is still a hotly debated issue.
      Like simile of feeding the wolf. We need to begin early and ensure we are scripting the new generation better

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