Secular, Western nations have adopted a battle cry of ‘tolerance’ to cope with our global world. I don’t think many would argue against peaceful tolerance in favor of conflict. But I feel tolerance has become a buzz word that is perhaps used inappropriately. I tolerate long lines at the bank, annoying people on public transport, advertisements and crying children. Tolerance does not require or encourage respect or empathy; which are perhaps the two most vital elements in a heterogeneous society.
The only understanding tolerance provides is the understanding that we must put up with something to maintain society’s status quo. Tolerance breeds silence. In that silence, issues compound and hatred can run unchecked. Since the civil rights movement, Americans have witnessed how racism can continue implicitly. There are laws and policies in place to prevent discrimination and racial slurs are largely unacceptable in mainstream society. And yet, it continues. While the days of ‘whites only’ entrances are behind us, racism seems to have found the back door. More recently, we have seen Islamophobia take hold in the same way since the attacks on September 11th, 2001.
Tolerance is only the beginning of a peaceful community. To complete this, respect, understanding and empathy are essential. I think we are capable of more than just tolerance, more than just coexisting. We will need to cooperate and commiserate with each other if diverse societies are going to thrive rather than just survive in this global world.