Etymology situates tolerance within Latin roots. But tolerance transcends the realm of words to permeate through the realm of actions, hence its antiquity. Without it, humankind wouldn’t have thrived in adversity regardless of the innumerable historic occurrences when tolerance was put aside or simply forgotten in trying to obliterate diversity of any sort. In a way, humankind history is profoundly marked by the existence and non-existence of tolerance as a driving force to progress. In other words, peace and conflict are poles apart, yet are eternally co-existing and contradictory.
Consequently, it seems unrealistic to define tolerance in its entirety, or trying to understand its source. Because tolerance is based upon sameness, and at the same time it implies an attitude towards otherness. Additionally, it could be said that it points to the idea that we are all the same, yet infinite in our own differences. Once again, identity arises as a core concept to keep in mind when trying to prove who we are. And that creates as many possibilities as people. I like to think that uniqueness is a result of our decisions along the vital path, but the former is forged within togetherness.
Then, we must ask, how can we grasp the ethereal concept that is tolerance? Maybe we cannot. Maybe our ability to embody tolerance is expressed entirely through actions. Maybe in trying to crystallize tolerance into words, nuance it, philosophize about it, we ultimately forget that as a simple and very complex act too, it is best enacted when genuine and spontaneous.
My grandma María and Regina didn’t know much about philosophy nor reading or writing. But they silently got ahead despite being born in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) for they believed in people. This, of course, carried along high levels of solidarity. But it is ultimately tolerance which allowed them to survive, bearing in mind that disdain for otherness had just resulted into an unnecessary bloodshed that nowadays is still the cause of divisiveness within Spanish society.
At risk of falling into exceeding sentimentality, I would pose that tolerance is one of those inaccurately called soft skills that nonetheless is strong enough to demolish the power divide. Togetherness will come naturally as a consequence of accepting the merriment of sameness and otherness. Although positive to raise awareness, it won’t make them disappear, nor dilute. Instead, the very day they disappear for good, we will all be participants from societies where markers such as sexuality, gender, ethnicity and race, among others, are celebrated for being inextricable parts to our polyhedral individual and collective identities. Maybe that way we won’t just presume post-structuralism is inevitable, and we will guide our moral principles by humanity and tolerance as opposed to polarizing assertiveness.
Written by Santi, our long term ESC Volunteer