WHAT TOLERANCE REALLY MEANS
By Victor Uyanwanne
I have always been interested in learning new words and I have usually made conscious effort towards achieving that aim. I remember way back in school when we were much younger when we used to keep “New Words and Meaning” notebooks as a deliberate strategy to enhance our knowledge of English words. Those notebooks were really helpful then in building our capacity to understanding English as a second language.
Somehow, I have carried the habit of learning new words into my adult life, but with a different strategy. Thanks to the revolution in ICT! For instance, I subscribed to an offer by my telecom service provider to send me one new English word and its meaning, every day. I have been enjoying this service for years now without fail. This service has afforded me a convenient medium of learning the meaning of many new words and also refreshing my memory with the ones I already knew their meanings.
Along this line recently, while at work, the text message alert on my phone beeped as usual. When I checked the new word that was ‘delivered’ to me, the meaning I saw totally opened a new perspective to me on what I thought I already knew about that word. That was when it hit me to write this piece. Please read on.
What is the word we are talking about here? “Tolerance”! That’s it. I know the word is not new to you as people frequently use it; what I don’t know is how much of its real meaning you really have understood and applied in your own sphere of influence.
You may probably have been tempted to think that tolerance strictly means to put up with something or someone with very nasty, horrible, terrible or poignant attributes. smiles! But look at this definition below and compare it with what you already know about the meaning of the word:
“Tolerance: Willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs which are different from your own.”
I don’t know about you, but the definition above opened up an entirely new vista to me, of which I am glad. It shows for instance that tolerance didn’t say we should put up with evil or bad things or bad people, as some people may think. But it clearly portrays “willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs which are different from [our] own.”
Now let’s take a closer look at the key aspects of the said definition:
• Willingness to accept
• Behaviour and beliefs
• Different from your own
To be honest, tolerance should be required wherever there are inter human relationships because you will always meet people whose behaviour and beliefs are different from yours.
Due to a number of varied factors such as genetic make-up, family background, religion, education, geography, exposure, life experiences etc, all of us believe different things and behave differently from one another. That means that at any point in time in your chequered life, you will always see people who behave or believe differently from you. In order to coexist harmoniously with such people, you should be willing to accept such different behaviour or beliefs, if they cannot be changed.
Talking about changing people’s behaviour and beliefs, experience has shown that many people are aware that some other people do not share their behaviour or beliefs. But sometimes they are unwilling to accept such other people who do not share their outlook. This is often the beginning of unnecessary conflicts.
However, you may only try to effect some changes on peoples’ bahaviour or beliefs if possible to suite yours; but you shouldn’t try to use force. You can’t change anyone who doesn’t really want to be changed. You can only influence such persons.
When it comes to changing someone’s behaviour or beliefs, influence should be the operating word, not force. Otherwise, you must bring to bare the willingness to accept their behaviour and beliefs which you perceive to be different from your own and which you cannot change. That, my friend, is the real meaning of tolerance.
Bear in mind that tolerance is a seed; as you sow it, you will reap the sweet harvest. Besides don’t you realize that others would have to tolerate you too? I believe you know that not all your behaviour and beliefs are acceptable to everyone you come in contact with! Although, I cannot guarantee it, they too ought to be willing to accept your behaviour and beliefs which are different from their own. There is no worthwhile relationship that doesn’t require tolerance in between.
Like all good habits, tolerance doesn’t just happen to us; it has to be cultivated deliberately and ‘open-heartedly’. It is very important to cultivate it because you will need it if you desire to build a meaningful, harmonious and long-lasting relationship of any kind with people.
Here are a few areas where we can apply the principle of tolerance:
• At home, between spouses , amongst siblings or other family members;
• At work , between you and your boss, colleagues or direct reports;
• In your neighourhoods, amongst cotenants, etc
• Amongst your friends, classmates in schools etc
• In churches, with members and leaders alike;
• In other organisations /relationships, etc
• In fact, anywhere you come in contact with humans.
People are different. You are not everyone and everyone is not you. Therefore, there will always be differences in behaviour and beliefs between you and others. There would be conflicts all the time in all kinds of human relationships if the principle of tolerance is not imbibed. The extent to which you realise this differences and how well you are willing to accept and manage them depict your level of tolerance at any given period of time.