Today, the 16th of November, is International Day of Tolerance. This day was marked by the UN in the wake of the racial and cultural conflicts in Africa, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. As they said then, in “the interests of conflict prevention, promotion of human rights,”  we need to “encourage the values of tolerance and peace among all the people of the world”. The first day was observed in 1995, and has continued to be observed on 16th November each year since then.

In a society with growing diversity of cultures and traditions from all over the world, it is important for us to learn how to be tolerant of one another in order to lead a peaceful life. The UK is made up of a population of people who hold over 270 nationalities and speak over 300 different languages.

What do we mean by Tolerance?

One definition is, that “tolerance is giving to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself.” (Robert Green Ingersoll). This just means that we should treat others how we would like to be treated.

Everyone is different, and we will not always like other people’s views or beliefs, but these differences are what make us unique! Life would be pretty boring if we only ever met people who were the same as us. Accepting the differences we see in others makes us tolerant. That’s not to say we must change our way of thinking, or change our own beliefs or opinions, but we should at the very least try to be more tolerant, accepting and respectful of others and the fact that many people will be different from us.

We should also bear in mind that there is a limit to tolerance: we do not tolerate criminal behaviour, for example. Tolerance does not mean we have to accept everything if it harms other people. Nor does tolerance necessarily mean that there is not a correct answer: the Earth is actually round and just because some people believe that it’s flat does not mean that this is the case! Tolerance is just about accepting that other people can hold this view, even if it is wrong.

Why do we need tolerance?

ToleranceDay.Org says that “tolerance isn’t necessary if we are in agreement. We are allowed to disagree, but it is the manner and attitude with which we express our views which is important.” Tolerance is about accepting beliefs and viewpoints that we don’t agree with, whilst still being able to discuss them.

In the past, people who were different were generally seen as a threat to society and persecuted. This was especially true regarding people of different religions, races or even appearance. To understand the importance of tolerance we just need to imagine what it would be like if we were subject to intolerance. If people thought we were a threat or danger to society simply because we had different opinions or beliefs, then how would that make us feel? It would be very intimidating to live in an intolerant world, with the constant fear of being rejected just for being different, without having done anything wrong.

How does tolerance relate to bullying?

The theme of Anti-Bullying Week this year is ‘All Different, All Equal’, and tolerance is a key part of this. Every person is different, and you may not like everyone you meet, but we should be treating everyone as our equal. Bullying is often a consequence of intolerance. It happens when instead of accepting and tolerating the differences of others, those differences are highlighted in a negative light. For example, unfairly criticising someone or discriminating against them because of their religion, race or political views.

How can I become more tolerant?

Learn2Think has the following ways to become more tolerant:

  • By developing an understanding of people, practices and perspectives.
  • By accepting the challenge of different points of view – to confront your own ideas, disprove them or have your thinking changed by them.
  • By standing up to intolerance, resisting retaliation and being resilient.
  • By tolerating people in all circumstances, respecting their right to express themselves, even if you think their ideas are wrong.
  • By actively applauding behaviour that is moral and consistent with the common good (the benefit of society more broadly).
  • By encouraging ideas that are sound, and result in a positive benefit to society.

A more tolerant society is more pleasant for us all to live in and is essential if we are all to get along in a diverse, democratic society. It allows us to share ideas and be exposed to a variety of different beliefs, safe in the knowledge that we won’t be rejected just for being different. Tolerance benefits everyone.