The Times of Israel published my new article “The True Meaning of Tolerance”
Which does this world resemble more, a peaceful garden or a jungle with wild predators devouring each other? Most likely the latter. At the same time clashes and division are rampant in the United States as well as the rest of the planet, the UN’s International Day for Tolerance is commemorated. But unless we explore what tolerance truly means there will be no implementation. Understanding and mastering the art of listening to and embracing one another is what will give us the tools to flip polarization into balance.
“Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human,” states the UN Declaration of Principles on Tolerance. The ideals of those words are important, but marking a special day for tolerance on the calendar is meaningless if we do not educate humanity first about the essence of what this premise means and how to put it in practice in our daily lives. Otherwise, “tolerance” becomes an empty word.
Similar situations exist with other commemorations such as the International Women’s Day. Have we ever heard people receiving lessons during their early upbringing—in kindergarten or in school—on how to respect women or even the most basic principles of how to respect and love their mother? I have no such recollection. Therefore, our education is lacking as we fail to engrave core values into the social fabric.
The word for “tolerance” in Hebrew is sovlanut, from the verb “lisbol,” (to suffer), as if we need to endure or suffer the opinions of others. However, in that sense, there is no need to tolerate but instead to embrace one another. The suffering we experience stems from the fact that our vision is self-centered and is unable to feel others, particularly those who are different from us. We should rather accept and feel the other as ourselves, his opinions and feelings, even if they are contrary to ours.
We should base our human relationships on the principle that everyone has a place in society, and should recognize that difference and diversity create a colorful and wonderful mosaic. Nature created us this way so we would come to realize how the richness of opinions from diverse minds empowers everyone. If only we knew how to properly integrate the myriad pieces of the human cogwheels, then we would see how each one is indispensable for the synchronized and well-oiled mechanism called creation.
But why have we become increasingly reticent over the years to even look each other in the eye, let alone to properly communicate and connect? The reason is tied to our constantly growing ego that nature develops within us—our insatiable drive to fulfill our own desires to the detriment of others. The more the ego grows, the less calm we become.
Aggravation, intolerance, and mutual rejection are all states that nature compels us to feel in order to enable us to recognize our human egoistic approach as the cause of the turbulence in our lives, and by reaching a dead end in our ability to get along with others, to develop a sincere new desire to rise above the ego.
The evolutionary process moves humanity from deeper levels of conflict to higher states of balance and cooperation. Human society is coming to a point where extreme social polarization will inevitably bring about a higher level of social organization. There is no escape from learning how to unite above opposing sides, not by eliminating the opposites, but rather by balancing them to create a higher understanding.
Therefore, in order to avoid social catastrophe we will have to foster a new mindset and establish an entirely new model of socio-political order, one that can accommodate opposite views to achieve social stability rather than perpetuate and deepen social division.
In nature, the foundational urge operating within all living organisms is to find the coexistence and interplay between two opposite forces, creating a higher level of order and prosperity. Evolution brings opposites together through dynamic equilibrium. Knowledge about how this principle of the inner system of nature works—the force that operates and controls everything in reality—is our only anchor in the changing world.
Bringing people of different views closer to each other in order to reach new levels of mutual understanding should be the ultimate goal of today’s societies. When this takes place, our differences will remain, but in a complementary way, for collective benefit. Then real tolerance will occur, understood as comprehension, acceptance, and brotherhood. As Kabbalist Rav Yehuda Ashlag (Baal HaSulam) wrote in his essay The Freedom:
“Each individual should maintain the integrity of their inheritance, and the contradiction and oppositeness between them will remain forever, to secure the criticism and progress of wisdom, which is the major advantage of humanity.”