If I tolerate you, will you tolerate me?

There are some words that are easy to use (in English). Tolerance is one of them. Sounds good? I just read a translated text from a colleague saying ‘Tolerance is the key to a successful life…’

But surely if you tolerate me, it means you feel superior to me? As witness also ‘zero tolerance’, meaning if I do something you don’t like you will punish me immediately.

So how about ‘respect’, is that better? Not for me. 1) I’m allergic to being told I ‘should show respect’ for one thing or another – respect needs to be earned, doesn’t it? 2) It’s increasingly used to justify violence. If in your opinion I don’t demonstrate respect, you feel justified in hitting me.

What, actually, does my colleague mean? Are we talking about ‘acceptance’? If we are all able to accept each other’s personal, ethnic etc. cultures, then peace-building becomes easier? Maybe. But then we come up against the question of values. If my culture decrees that girl-babies should be killed, you may have some difficulties with acceptance – no?

The recent tragic events in Norway underscore this point. Mao Tse Tung and St Matthew had similar recommendations: ‘Criticize the action, not the person’. The Norwegians seem to be rising magnificently to this challenge.

In less clear-cut cases we come back, as usual, to self-awareness: willingness to work with my own preconceived ideas: to examine how far they stem from deeply-held values, and be prepared to let go of them or hold on to them accordingly.

Hmm. But it’s a much harder sell than ‘tolerance is the key to a successful life’…