27 Aug

Tolerance

I had a chat the other day and we came into conclusion that we are not as tolerant as we think we are – let me just give you some examples.

As the world grapples with new waves of terror in Iraq and Syria, the Australian government are also battling against members of the community who are backing the terrorists. They have put upon themselves to say that citizens and migrants to this country have to be part of Team Australia. So, regardless of your origins, outward appearances, colours, creeds, and behaviours – as long as you put the nation’s interest first and foremost, you are fine.

Let’s take this in smaller context – my Facebook wall is peppered with right-wing posts from a dear friend in the US who is a self-professed Christian to criticise the President. Although the Bible teaches us to pray for our leaders (whether we agree or disagree with them, the Bible doesn’t discriminate), I don’t think he does a lot of praying to bless his President. Maybe it’s okay if you are from different ethnic origin, gender, wealth, colour, but only if you are a Christian and support the Republican, then you are fine.

The cases can be replicated elsewhere – put a staunch Green supporter among a group of Liberals or put a pro-life person among the pro-choice group. Chances are, the bigger group will try to subtly (or as forcefully as deemed acceptable by society and by the group) convert the person’s way of thinking – or vice versa. If that fails, I would say that it is harder for the group to let that issue go – compared to outward appearances like disability, hair or skin colour, height or weight. Within the respective groups: it’s easier to accept that Samir - a migrant from Sudan – is a good bloke, because he behaves and thinks like a local despite his skin colour and ethnicity. It may be harder for Moira, a third-generation Australian with a PhD in quantum physics who decides to attend church. She may be questioned on how she reconciles her faith and science - if – the topic ever surfaces at work.

The degree of tolerance and differences vary among group – a group who may be carefree about sexuality, may not be tolerant with any nuances of racism. Likewise, a group of Christians may not be able to tolerate somebody who may vote to a different political party. It’s as if everybody had a unique in-built tolerance meter for different beliefs or affiliations. It’s easier to tolerate outward appearances – once you’re comfortable with somebody’s height, weight, skin tone and ethnicity – then you assess them on the things that matter more to you. Some people tolerate religious differences better, some don’t. Some are easy going with whatever you think about euthanasia and abortion, some don’t.

Taking my beliefs aside, I don’t have an answer to this conundrum as there’s bound to be something that a group of people disagree even with 99 commonalities. Maybe it’s an in-built indicator for survival – we don’t want to have any intruders or snakes in the grass within our group. Somebody who thinks differently.

It’s easy to say that we are tolerant – learned or not, the fact is, we are built with different levels of suspicion and distrust against other people who are different to us. Perhaps it would be better if we learn the art of agreeing to disagree without having to forcefully or subtly convert somebody into our way of thinking or believing. Perhaps it is an asset and not a liability to accept somebody with an alternative viewpoint within the group. This is a consequence of the wisdom of crowds. In a world that refuses to be dictated by a higher compass of black and white, we have to deal with a gradation of greys.