• Sunday, June 23, 2024
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Tolerance: A need in a heterogeneous society


A lot is said about tolerance these days, especially at the time when even people with same background, race, skin colour, belief, etc., are rising against themselves, but not many persons understand the term or its interpretation. Tolerance is more than “putting up” or coping with things – it’s a moral virtue, which in the philosophy of Aristotle, is a “virtue concerned with the practical or with the vegetative and appetitive. Such virtues are exemplified by courage, temperance, gentleness and liberality”.

As a concept that is best placed within the moral domain, tolerance is a virtue, but it is often confused with prejudice, which is an adverse judgement or opinion formed beforehand without good justification. In actuality, both concepts are theoretically different, but are not the opposite of each other. They coexist in most humans.

Tolerance is difficult to define, which may not be unconnected to limiting its study in psychology in favour of prejudice. Unlike prejudice, tolerance can be established in the moral domain which offers a positive approach to examining relationships between groups of people who are different from each other.

Looking at the Latin origin of the concept, tolerance, or “toleration” as philosophers often refer to it, is most commonly viewed negatively as “putting up with” something we seem not to like. If a person says s/he is prepared to “put up with” something or someone, it simply indicates that that person does not discriminate, but remains intolerant in thoughts and beliefs. I doubt if there is anyone who wishes to be tolerated or “put up with”?

Another direction to perceive tolerance is placing it within the moral domain, recognising that it is a moral virtue. Put differently, it is a moral obligation or duty involving respect for individuals, as well as mutual respect and consideration between people, irrespective of background, race, religion, sex, and other grounds for differences.

The existence of tolerance between people gives room for conflicting claims of beliefs, values and ideas to coexistence as long as they fit within acceptable moral values. Hence, while different marriage practices fit in within acceptable moral values, sexual abuse of children is immoral and cannot be tolerated.

The role of tolerance in a society cannot be overemphasised, as it is an absolute necessary component in social unity and an ultimate remedy to intolerance and prejudice, which is why its idea as a moral duty was earlier acknowledged by civil libertarians: John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, and John Stuart Mill among others. They are of the opinion that tolerant people value the individual, his or her independence and freedom of choice.

At that point when tolerance is placed within the ambience of morality, as also assumed by a psychological research, relating to fairness, justice and respect and avoiding harming others, it can only be held as a positive moral virtue. Therefore, it is established that the best indicators of tolerance to human diversity are fairness and empathy.

Fairness and empathy are also very closely connected to moral development and reasoning, as it is believed that empathy is the most important motivator for moral, pro-social and altruistic behaviour.

Empathic people are sensitive to the thoughts, feelings and experiences of others. They have the ability to assume themselves in other people’s situations, understanding how it would feel to be in a similar situation as others.

The essence of tolerance is assuming oneself in someone else’s shoes, resulting to peaceful coexistence with others, irrespective of conspicuous differences.

Therefore, moral values such as fairness, justice, empathy, tolerance and respect are shared, even if they are not seen as universal values relevant to dealing with human noticeable heterogeneity.