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#tolerancemeans bridging the gap by understanding

Fedellis Le Ying Lim, Undergraduate, Queen Mary University of London


Born and raised as a Malaysian Chinese, I was a minority in Malaysia, where approximately 70% of the population is Bumiputera (Malays and indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia), 22% Chinese, 6% Indians and 2% others. When I was much younger, I have always questioned why I had to dress so conservatively when visiting places of religious worship or government departments such as the passport renewal office. Surely, in Malaysia’s tropical climate, shouldn’t it be acceptable to wear crop tops, shorts and slippers? If I did not get to dress however I like, I told myself ‘It’s okay. Only a couple of hours. 忍.’ (meaning: endure or put up with it). 


Fedellis Le Ying Lim

Growing up, my parents taught me that in a country with vast cultural differences, different ethnicities live peacefully because of tolerance; and tolerance is not 忍, rather it is 明白 (meaning: understand). Dressing conservatively was not a hassle - I can choose to dress however I want. It then becomes a matter of whether I choose to respect the religious and cultural differences of other ethnicities by dressing appropriately at certain places. I chose to dress appropriately, because I learnt to understand that comfort should never come at the expense of respect and tolerance. 


It breaks my heart to see how over the course of history, the cause of so many wars and conflicts were due to differences: the Thirty Years’ War was due to the conflict between Protestantism and Catholicism; the Holocaust during World War II was due to the extreme support of Nazism and antisemitism; the Cold War was due to the friction between communism and capitalism and the list goes on. Evidently, differences are prevalent in every society to the end of time. 


Thus, I believe that for everyone to live together harmoniously, our goal should not be to eliminate differences by having one party assert dominance over the other. Rather, our goal should be tolerating, embracing and assimilating these differences. Bridging the gap between differences can be achieved through a plethora of ways, for example, peace conferences or treaties, international organisations such as the United Nations, education etc. 


Therefore in a plural society with majority and minority groups, everyone has a place. Voices should not only be heard, but also be respected. This respect goes far beyond mere acceptance of a different view. To respect is to tolerate and understand. Whether to 忍 or to 明白, it is all in the mindset. If everyone plays their role in being a little more open-minded, a little more kind-hearted and a little more willing to tolerate and 明白, these clashes and differences would unite us, instead of divide us. Showing empathy towards others would bridge any gaps or differences in culture, religion, opinion and insights, and the world would be more peaceful and harmonious even in a time of division. Therefore, tolerance was never about breaking down walls between different views; it was and will always be about building bridges. 

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