It was just an English word I knew, just like so many others I'm aware of, having read them somewhere or the other. Those are the words you realize you know when someone talks about them and it sounds familiar. I never had patience for dictionaries, even the online ones. Not that I'm proud of the fact; I wish I would have the will to pause and check out the proper meaning of a word before using it wherever it 'felt' appropriate, but so far, I'm only learning, and not very well either. Such words seem foreign at one point of time, when you read them associated with something, anything that hits your heart, and you realize you were simply treating it like a nobody while it held deep character all this while. One such word for me was 'tolerance'.
Def: (Oxford dictionary online)
Before that, I'd heard this word in school. 'I'd not tolerate any nonsense!' the teacher would shout. She wouldn't take nonsense, so you better behave.
I'd also read it in novels. 'It was hard to tolerate all the pain.' Something that'd be difficult to bear.
But was it something big enough to wonder about? Something to be taken seriously, because you'd start feeling bad if you didn't understand it or did something about it? No.
It was only a few months ago when I came across a short speech delivered by the famous author, Vikram Seth, titled 'Intolerance is Violence,' that I got a glimpse into another, more fundamental aspect of the word, and it felt like I've been wronged most of my life!
A friend sometime mentioned, 'as Indians, we're quite racist' and it hadn't taken long for me to agree. We differentiate based on colour, religion, gender, social status, family background, etc even among ourselves. We teach it to our children, even when as kids, they're inclined to treat everyone the same unless they see their guardians treating certain people differently. We're proud of our heritage, even though we don't realize that we probably don't even deserve it, but oh, we're so confident of ourselves that we feel we're the best ever humanity could have. I think it'd be better if we faced reality: we've been provided marvelous lives, and the least we could do is be grateful about it. This isn't a sermon; I'm yet to understand and apply half these things myself, but what I do know is that my life would totally suck if I stayed in this bubble for long. Just so you know, it isn't self-created. It's something we're being born into and we don't even realize there's a world outside that bubble. Some thickheaded among us even guard the boundaries fiercely, lest it bursts, making other people who feel trapped inside, even more miserable. These are mostly the leaders, our supposed heroes sent out to let people escape their cages, but they end up doing the opposite, just because they're too scared to venture outside.
That makes different people live in different bubbles, never really trying to understand others' lives, their values and beliefs, thought processes, ways of living, or ever share their human nature. People eventually become comfortable in their own space and look at differences with suspicion, and sometimes, enmity. This is intolerance.
It takes an uglier aspect when it is edged with acts of abuse. Physical harm is only one form of such abuse. Making a sour face at someone else without even knowing them as people is also abuse. Asking your kid to stay away from the maid's child is abuse. Thinking a man in a turban would act crazy because he is a Sikh, is abuse. Think about how many people you've abused in your life and if you feel humbled even one percent, read on, or else I suggest you go back to your clique of high-profile, 'modern' friends who do no more than share a picture of the poor receiving a once-in-a-lifetime hug from some 'superstar', while throwing a callous, racist joke. I'd hope no more people like you come into existence. There are far too many already.
I have this belief about authors churning out some of the best messages about life and society, and being daring enough to announce it to the world. It felt great when Vikram Seth did it. Apart from him, J.K. Rowling is someone who actively advocates tolerance and even seeks to send messages of tolerance through her stories. In one of her recorded interviews, she was asked what vice she most despises. Her one word reply: bigotry. The story of Harry Potter has lovable characters who're indeed different and in her own way, she managed to make younger readers have more capacity for tolerance. Need proof? Read it here.
Why should you harbour tolerance?
Because that's how it's supposed to be. Hatred never got us anywhere. Wars might be won, but millions of people die and that's the cruelest crime. Unkind words leave deep wounds, sometimes altering someone else's personality. You should be tolerant towards others and intolerant to intolerance. Someone hurt you badly? If you can't manage to forgive and forget, or let a just law take care of them, let it be. Don't go for revenge or bad-mouthing the person. You should be tolerant because generalization is wrong. It's not just bad, it's plain wrong. People are not defined by their backgrounds or looks and the sooner you realize this, the earlier you'd achieve a level of tolerable tolerance. You should be tolerant because you'd have a bright, wider outlook on the world, friends from the unlikeliest of places and it'd make you feel wonderful.
How can you achieve more tolerance?
#1. By controlling your desperate urge to comment on any such post on Facebook where people are belittling others by categorizing them under religious heads. Hint, hint: read any post related to 9/11 or Kashmir floods and you'll know what I mean. It's horrifying to read hatred filled comments coming from the youngsters who'd supposedly help India overcome problems. Ow, don't tell me you really believe that? Because as long as we're stupidly guzzling any form of generalization made so prominent by businesses and media, we're only going downhill. You could vehemently go on opposing it, because you'd be long dead by the time other people suffer due to your mindlessness.
#2. Stop generalizing, stereotyping, prejudicing and most of all, stop misusing the voice social media so easily provided you, to encourage any of those. I'm sometimes astounded at the minuscule number of people who'd agree on the importance of reading, so I wouldn't even go there, but if you think you're smart enough to churn out biased viewpoints and abusing people, even communities on social media, I'd have to admit that I think you're totally dumb. No, ignoring you is not the answer. Stopping you is.
#3. Wait to know people yourself first before believing anything negative about them. Practice looking at people without the cloud of their background in mind and making assumptions; do that till you are able to look at anyone without wondering about their colour or caste or religion or finances or any other thing. Don't accept generalizations. They're bad.
#4. Mind your own business. Seriously. Unless it affects you, and unless what you say or do will actually make a difference, keep your nose out of other people's business. Also, like mentioned before, your opinion on world issues is hardly relevant, so unless you have something useful to say, refrain. Then look at the world become a better place.
Many Indian leaders before have talked about intolerance. Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan spoke of intolerance as the greatest repressor of progress. There probably are a lot more ways for being tolerant and I'm hoping I'd understand and practice those too, while praying that others too know how important it is to not be swayed by radical assumptions and statements, to have the ability to accept the fact that people are different and that the world needs a lot more love than hatred.
A part of Vikram Seth's speech that makes sense to me:
'Intolerance is violence. And accepted intolerance is violence with the acquiescence of society.'
'You may as well be yourself, because really, there’s no one else you can be. We’re here for such a ridiculously short time, in this ridiculously trivial corner of the universe, that if we aren’t ourselves, what’s the point of doing anything at all? So I would say it all matters, whether it’s your profession, whether it’s your beliefs, whether it’s the person you love, you must go at heart with who you are. Not what someone else tells you, not what your clan tells you, not even what an unjust law tells you. Go with yourself.'