Culture & Life · History India South Asia · Politics · Religion

Tolerance 101 for “Grown-Up Kids” in Today’s Alarming Times

(This article was published by Huffington Post India on Aug 8, on this page.)

Arnab Goswami has once again uttered outrageous stuff. Though not unusual for him, this time the absurdity of his comments has reached dangerous levels. Now while my baser human instincts urge me to aggressively lambast him, I, like many in this country, value civilized discourses where one is expected, at all times, to rise and stay above primitive human urges — something that would serve well him and his viewers too.

Talking about being civilized, Goswami — with scores of influential but divisive people like him all over the world — will immensely benefit by reading the wonderful book ‘The Story of Civilization’ by British philosopher C.E.M. Joad. This short book was written in 1931 as part of a ‘How & Why’ series of books, and most probably (for we know little about these books today) its intended primary audience was children and young adults.

What I will focus on is the book’s fifth chapter titled The Spreading of Knowledge, where Joad writes some of the finest lines ever on the importance of tolerance in a civilized society. The language is simple and beautiful, and one easily discerns Joad was intending to make the profound concept of tolerance easy to comprehend for kids. The widespread resurgence of violently intolerant mindsets today (including in India) and the failure of societies to acknowledge the hazards of that, reminded me lately of this beautiful discourse of Joad’s and of the famous line from the movie Philadelphia: ‘Explain it to me like I’m a six-year-old’.

Thus, below I reproduce some of what Joad wrote for kids about tolerance and being tolerant, and while I believe these lines should be taught to every child in every school everywhere, for now I think it would suffice if every adult today appreciated their importance and relevance.

“A tolerant person is one who does not interfere with other people, even if he thinks they are wrong, and is prepared to let them think what they like and say what they think. If he thinks they are wrong, he may try to persuade them to believe differently, but he will not try to force them.”

“A great deal of misery of mankind in the past has sprung from people being unwilling to tolerate other people thinking differently from themselves. This intolerance has been particularly common in religious matters. All over the Western world for instance, people have killed and tortured other people for not believing the same as they did about the nature of God, and Jesus and the Virgin Mary.”

“Today we are tolerant of other people’s beliefs and on the whole let them think what they please. Now this tolerance is a new thing in the world, and it is one of the most important things in modern civilization. It has come very gradually, and it has only been won after a hard fight.”

“The fight has been not so much to let people think what they liked — obviously you couldn’t stop them doing that — as to let them write and say what they thought.”

This last line is of tremendous relevance today, with the current cacophony in India over the Kashmir issue and Goswami’s unprofessional comments.

It is worth reminding readers that Joad wrote this stuff in 1931, and only a few years later Europe descended into an awfully intolerant phase as a society. Since history has an uncanny habit of repeating itself, we need to work truly hard to ensure it does not this time over; not so much to prove we are brighter than our ancestors, as to prove to our descendants that we were brighter.

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