Tolerance - Live and let live
FOR A MORE TOLERANT YOU
Beware of generalizations, particularly those of a derogatory nature. Statements such as 'all Hindus are...', merely bar us from discovering the truth.
Put yourself in the other's place.
Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti
(That which exists is One; the wise call it by many names)
Indian gay activist and journalist Ashok Row Kavi tells this tale, "When I came out in the open about my sexual inclinations, my brothers threw me out. At the same time, I was expected to look after my aging aunt and mother whom no one else wanted. Unfortunately, neither of them wanted to stay with me. They drew their identity and self-esteem from the heterosexual members of the family."
Subhash Datrange, executive director of the National Association for the Blind (NAB), lost his vision at age 32 due to a retinal detachment. He says of those first traumatic days, "My own friends and relatives wouldn't acknowledge me. Even your own shadow leaves you. Nobody, after all, wants to bet on a losing horse."
During the 1992 Bombay riots, Farrokh Ahmed M.K., a security guard in a bank, went to his local masjid for namaz when the police opened fire. Farrokh was shot in the stomach. "Seven of us died," he recalls. "At that time I felt that no one was looking after the Muslims. Not even the police.
" Nine-year-old Neha (name changed on request) is distraught. "Nobody wants to play with me because I am dark," she says.
Victims of differences.
In a diverse world, separated by color, community, caste, class, sex, habits and inclinations, each of us is different. And often we pay the price for it. Sometimes as victims, bruised by the world's rejection. Sometimes as predators, holding the world at ransom for our prejudices. Either way, the world loses.
Now consider Gladys Staines, widow of slain Australian missionary Graham Staines. In an incident that horrified the world early this year, her husband and their two young boys were burnt to death inside a jeep in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, by fundamentalists protesting Staines' evangelical activities. Yet, the next day, even as the country cringed in shame, Gladys announced that she forgave the murderers and accepted the deaths as God's will. No tears, no anger, no hatred, no call for vengeance. Merely forgiveness and surrender.
Staines had performed the rarest of alchemy. By experiencing, accepting and sublimating a huge negative, she produced its opposite, a positive. From hate she reaped love. In one fell swoop, she transcended all the differences of religion, race, country and injury to connect with the humanity of her loved ones' murderers.
How can we learn to ford differences? What is it that holds us within our separateness and makes us push the other away? How can we move towards a differentiated, harmonized whole?
Tolerance means many things to many people. For many it has a grudging, half-hearted quality, implying a forced resignation. Says filmmaker and activist Anand Patwardhan, who has made two films—In the Name of God and Father, Son and Holy War—decrying fundamentalism, "It's a bit of a negative concept. It means living with something but not being obliged to like it. That's not good enough. Hindus must do more than tolerate Muslims and Christians. I prefer to use love and compassion instead."
Says Sandeep Waslekar, founder of International Center for Peace Initiatives, "Tolerance is less ambitious than agreement or unity, but it is valuable because it implies deliberate self-control."
These definitions apply as long as the concept is externally imposed. What if the concept were to naturally flower from within? Psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani explains, "Tolerance implies openness to difference. And that depends on self-esteem. If you have good self-esteem, you will not be threatened by differences." Adds New Ager Fali Kumanna: "Tolerance is automatically generated if your ground of being is unconditional love."
As a natural state of mind, tolerance indicates an ability to coexist with others, to respect alternative points of view, to neither dominate nor be dominated. It suggests both the ability to be yourself as well as allow others that freedom. It is both sturdy individuality and acceptance of other points of view.
The point is, which definition to opt for—the external or the internal? Your instinct urges you within, for that is where lasting solutions lie. Yet writers like Daniel Goleman of Emotional Intelligence warn with eminent common sense, "It is more practical to suppress the expression of bias rather than try to eliminate the attitude itself; stereotypes change very slowly, if at all."
In other words, not too many of us can claim to have the self-esteem that Mirchandani recommends, far less the unconditional love that Kumanna extols. The option is to look at the issue from both sides. Civilization needs both the watchdog and the visionary. While one keeps society relatively safe from anarchy, the other relentlessly moves it towards internal change. Suppression of intolerance may be an inevitable short-term solution, but ultimately only the attitude of acceptance can eliminate the problem.
For an example of the internal route to tolerance, look no further than India. Despite 5,000 years of conquests, strife and turbulence, Indian culture, traditions, and philosophy have continued largely undisturbed. Through constant acceptance and assimilation of alien cultures and habits, the country has retained its essential identity. Asks statesman and philosopher S. Radhakrishnan, "By what strange social alchemy has India subdued her conquerors, transforming them to her very self and substance? It is not by the use of force, or by the development of aggressive qualities that India has succeeded in her mission. May not the fortunes of India be a manifestation of that common law of nature by which the saber-toothed tiger species has been reduced while the unresisting sheep have been largely preserved?"
Going by philosophers and saints, acceptance of differences is India's essential quality. Then how did we lose it, if indeed we have? Let's say, rather, that we seem to have misplaced it, perhaps because of 500 years of slavery, perhaps due to our allegiance to the western civilization.
The reasons are many, yet they bring little comfort to those wrestling with an increasingly intolerant society. Social, economic and political tensions have never been higher. Religious intolerance is rising not just among Hindus and Muslims but between Hindus and Christians too. Says Ashok Chowgule, spokesperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Mumbai, "Conversion is an attack on the Hindu ethos." Ask Immanuel Kingsley of the Pentecostal group, House of Prayer, and he will tell you with terrifying certainty, "We are not intolerant but we love people and want to take them to Jesus so they will not perish in hell."
Fundamentalist political parties such as the Shiv Sena are challenging all forms of freedom of expression. Deepa Mehta's film Fire was forced out of theaters by vandalizing Sainiks and her Water was prevented from even being shot! To prevent a certain India-Pakistan Test match, the pitch in New Delhi's Ferozeshah Kotla stadium was dug up. Author Salman Rushdie's plan to come to India was predictably opposed by Muslims. The canker of intolerance is everywhere.
Reveals Jayesh Shah, publisher of Humanscape, a Mumbai-based magazine inspired by the ideals of the Argentine philosopher Silo's Humanist movement: "Children can't get on with parents or siblings any more. Even social activists do not tolerate each other." These are times when a 16-year-old boy throttles his grandmother because she nags him to study or a girl gets mowed down by an enraged paramour for refusing his overtures.
But not all would agree that intolerance is rising. Says activist and social reformer Asghar Ali Engineer: "The picture of rising intolerance is created by the media that highlights negatives. For every negative report there are a 100 unreported positives. We exist because the majority is tolerant."
There is little doubt that the media fuels the image of an intolerant India. Yet, while intolerance of the violent kind may not yet be part of our everyday reality, all of us are prey to the emotion from time to time. After all, despite its religious tolerance, ancient India was markedly intolerant towards the lower castes and women. Says Rajiv Dua, counselor and research associate working with the homosexual support organization Humsafar, "I had a gay chartered accountant come to me for counseling because nobody would give him a job on account of his feminine appearance, despite being brilliant." Nafisa Shikari, a visually impaired associate manager at the Central Bank of India, recalls: "When I approached some NGOs after college to help me do an MBA, they told me to stick to telephone operating." It's another matter that Shikari cleared her officer's exams on her own strength.
The question remains, how can we become more tolerant? Is there anything we can learn from our past? Acharya Ram Mohan, who holds Bhagavad Gita and Vedanta classes in Mumbai, the capital of the western Indian state of Maharashtra, explains, "The Hindu idea of tolerance comes from the understanding of God. Philosophically, God is seen as both the intelligence behind creation and the material of creation. Nothing is outside God." He quotes from the Isha Upanishad—isavasiyadam sarvam (God is everywhere). This concept of the all-pervasive God forms the essence of Indian philosophy, which is that the universe is one unit. Thus, all of creation is divine and in kinship with each other. Such an understanding automatically eliminates the concept of the other. Exclaims Swami Vivekananda, "When a man has reached the highest, when he sees neither man nor woman, neither sect nor creed, nor color nor birth, nor any of these differentiation, but goes beyond and finds that divinity which is the real man behind every human being-then alone he has reached universal brotherhood."
For our fragmented and divisive society, this message of universal brotherhood can heal and unite as little else can. This, at least, is what the Swadhyaya movement, headed by Maharashtra-based social reformer Pandurang Shastri Athavale, has been doing with remarkable success for the last 50 years or so. The movement has an ambitious charter: to effect a total transformation of society on economic, political, social, emotional and spiritual levels. The agent of this transformation is the concept of the indwelling God.
The reformations have been remarkable. Alcoholics have forsworn drink, smugglers and murderers have mended their ways, whole villages have united, compelled by their common divinity to ignore differences. Says the frail 79-year-old Athavale, "Cultivate love of others through the indwelling God. Only then will tolerance come."
This concept of interconnection with the universe alone can create an unconditional basis for coexistence. And indeed, what was so far merely a spiritual or philosophical insight is today being endorsed by science. Dr Larry Dossey's Era-3 medicine is based on the fact that the thoughts and attitudes of healing intentions of one individual can influence the physiology of another person. Quantum theorists such as Jack Scarfetti are postulating a multidimensional model of reality that includes the nonphysical or the unseen. Scientific studies have also proved the healing power of prayer. The environmental crisis is making scientists conscious of the delicate balance of the ecosystem, which is destabilized by the disappearance of the smallest species.
Russian writer and mystic Leo Tolstoy in his book, The Kingdom of God is Within You and Peace Essays, which is a sweeping indictment of the way Christ's teachings have been used to create the institution of Christianity , argues that true love among men can only be founded on the belief in a common creator. He says, "The advocates of Positivist, Communist and Socialist fraternity… propose love of humanity alone without a love of God. But such love cannot exist. There is no motive for it."
But while we wait for collective enlightenment to engulf us, how do we stop our species from self-destructing? The millennium prophets would tell us not to worry. Mankind, they say, is poised to make a radical shift in consciousness and herald a new age of peace, love and harmony. They use the analogy of the Hundredth Monkey Phenomenon, where scientists in a Japanese island discovered that when one group of monkeys began to wash sweet potatoes before eating them, after a while so did a completely different group on another island. When enough people get enlightened, the collective consciousness will change and we'll all live happily ever after. Fairy tales may yet come true.
What of the present, though? At the social level, many organizations and individuals are working to dispel the myths and generalizations that nurture intolerance, particularly religious intolerance.
Journalist Teesta Setalvad is coeditor of Communalism Combat, a magazine that promotes communal harmony. It was started in the turbulent wake of the 1992-93 Mumbai riots. With a circulation of 15,000, the 44-page magazine, though unsupported by advertisements, has penetrated schools, colleges and the desks of opinion-makers. Setalvad feels that the magazine has contributed towards suggesting debate and dialogue as saner alternatives to violence.
Setalvad is also part of another initiative called Khoj, under the auspices of Sabrang Communication, which works with school children.
"Many school principals were dismayed by the prejudices that had infected the children during the Mumbai riots, which manifested in ostracism. Khoj provides modules of intervention through social studies and history aimed at classes 5, 6 and 7," she explains. The Khoj modules are currently operational among 9 private and 18 municipal schools in Mumbai.
Social activist Irfan Ali Engineer's organization, Center for Society and Secularism, attempts to counter myths projected by different communities.
Through various workshops and camps, the group explores the root cause of riots and the part politicians play in them. They highlight the teachings of each religion and underscore India's syncretic traditions.
In Bangalore, the capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, Siddhartha, who runs an organization called Pipal Tree that nurtures pluralism and harmonious coexistence, does similar work with university students and professors, community leaders, bureaucrats, and the police. He posits the possibility of developing a concept called secular spirituality which would mean going beyond the creeds and outer rituals of religions to connect with the principle of divinity within each of us.
Asghar Ali Engineer seeks to do this by clarifying misunderstandings about the Koran and highlighting its liberal aspects. "The basic premise of the Koran is that there are different religions and ways of worship, but the truth is the same." He quotes Chapter 109 of the Koran: "I worship not that which you worship/Nor do you worship him which I worship… /For you is your religion and for me is my religion." He further explains that the kafir, or disbeliever, is not one who does not believe in Islam, but one who does not believe in the concept of God.
If most religions preach tolerance, and tolerance is the necessary loom to knit society, how can we generate it within ourselves and society? Engineer suggests that, instead of converting others to our faith, one must creatively interact with members of other religions."
For artist Baiju Parthan, intolerance is existential, arising out of man's yearning for permanence. Tolerance, then, would be a state of flow translated into an acceptance of impermanence. And what of the petty intolerance that bogs us down? Says Rajiv Dua, "Our tendency to generalize creates prejudices and intolerance. Education must stress that each person is unique and has a right to be so. When our focus shifts towards the betterment of self, we'll move away from hating."
But how far should one take tolerance? In an extreme pitch, can it not become pacifism? The answer to this question depends on whether, again, tolerance is seen as internal or external.
If externally imposed without voluntary acceptance, tolerance can quickly become an instrument of weakness and compliance. On the other hand, looked at internally, as the ability to straddle all differences through love, tolerance becomes an absolute quality that can be used in any situation. Consider Christ's injunction: "But I say unto you, that you resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also."
This is the ultimate expression of tolerance. It implies loving the other enough to assimilate what he does to us without retaliation, to return good for evil, to creatively mould one's response to the given situation, rather than be trapped in the cycle of action and reaction. This is what the Buddha meant when he said: "For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love."
Considering that Mahatma Gandhi used the power of internal tolerance in his nonviolence, we can hardly doubt its efficacy. Internal tolerance changes things in the most complete way—by transforming them. Says Radhakrishnan: "The hard is overcome by the gentle; even the non-hard is overcome by it; there is nothing impossible for the gentle; therefore the gentle is more powerful."
Gladys Staines is a more recent example. Far from having encouraged the lumpens to escalate their acts of violence, her example has inspired among other things, a unique pilgrimage where a multi-religious group of 51 including Muslim maulanas, Christian priests and nuns, Hindu maha mandaleshwars and Jain munis went to Baripada and Manoharpur where Graham Staines and his children died.
In the presence of internal tolerance, evil drains away. Goleman quotes a Vietnam veteran recalling an incident during the war. American soldiers and their Vietnamese counterparts were sniping at each other across a rice-field. Suddenly, a line of monks began walking calmly across the field directly towards the Americans. Their perfect poise and unhurried demeanor virtually compelled the soldiers to hold their fire. The soldier recalls: "After they walked across, suddenly all the fight was out of me… It must have been that way for everybody, because everybody quit. We just stopped fighting."
For centuries mankind has yearned for peace on earth and goodwill towards men. Surely such a universal dream will eventually be realized? And surely those of us who stand for tolerance are trying in our own way to bring it about?
Then, does it really matter how long it takes?
Subject: helping!! - 18 February 2012
it really helps to develop ones self get tolerant
by: bella adderson
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