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#tolerancemeans that we are open to listening

Updated: Apr 8

Katie Marshall, Undergraduate Student, Cambridge Union

We live in an age in which diversity in social and political thought are more visible to us than ever before. Through social media, debating panels and real time news, every day we are confronted with views and opinions that we may strongly disagree with and equally those that affirm our own beliefs. Often, we struggle to comprehend how someone could hold an opinion so polarised from our own worldview. How we react when exposed to challenging opinions or behaviours differs from person to person: whilst some people take a more reactionary approach, others are more inclined to accept that truth, for a variety of reasons, manifests as something very different for everyone. The meaning of tolerance comes from the Latin root denoting the ability to ‘endure’ something painful, either physically or mentally. I would argue, however, that this rather negative definition of the original root does not accurately represent what we should be striving for when we speak of tolerance in public discourse today. I believe that we are more likely to be ‘intolerant’ of something we do not fully understand, so we must address our ignorance before we can be fully tolerant of an opinion. By exclusively exposing ourselves to views and opinions that agree with our own long-held belief systems, we can never expect to be a tolerant society for, when only exposed to one side of an argument, hatred and resentment of ‘others’ will always find a way to prevail. To achieve genuine tolerance, we must be willing to listen to people who have opposing views with true curiosity and openness. In essence, tolerance does not mean that we must agree and approve of everybody’s views and opinions, as this would be impossible, but that we develop the ability to disagree respectfully. Tolerance through the lens of considering concepts outside our own way of thinking can only enrich and, possibly, affirm our own beliefs on a more meaningful level. For it is our diversity of opinion which enriches our collective understanding of the world. However, tolerance does not mean that we must always remain neutral to challenging views, as this would lead to a dangerous and unjust society. Instead, tolerance should mean that, if there is no risk of harm, we are willing to offer people of differing beliefs the same right to their opinion and way of life. Often, intolerance stems from insecurity and insecurity from misunderstanding. We tend to demonise people whose opinions differ dramatically from our own as a way of increasing a sense of our own worth as citizens. Frequently, however, we are basing our opinions of others upon assumptions which might so easily be changed were we to engage in respectful discussion and debate. Too often, we find ourselves living in a world which feeds off polarisation and encourages division and intolerance. Paradoxically, I would argue that we need more disagreement - but of the agreeable sort which leads to discovery, compromise and, above all, tolerance.

Katie Marshall, Undergraduate Student, Cambridge Union


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