By Michael Ketterhagen, PhD
Our second contemplation suggested by the Yoga Tradition that will bring us closer and closer to non-violent, peaceful, joyful living is contemplating how we can cultivate tolerance.
This is especially challenging in our deeply dualistic world, a world in which even not wearing masks when one enters a business, is praised for making a political statement. One of my yoga students told me last week that when she opened up her business and said that masks were not required, people thanked her for making a strongly “anti-government” political stance, even though that was not her intention at all.
Tolerance can be viewed from many perspectives.
Tolerance from the perspective of putting up with annoying or
painful people and experiences.
People can tolerate an unpleasant or irritating person or situation because at the present time they have to put up with it. It’s like saying to yourself, “I’ll put up with this individual until s/he leaves.” Or “Well, they’re just visiting and won’t be living in our neighborhood.” Or “I’ll hang in there with my headache until the pain-killing drug takes effect.” This is like planting seeds on concrete and waiting for the birds to eat them. They will eventually be gone, but the toleration experience itself bears no nourishment for the sower of the seed. One will still hate the person or the situation in one’s heart.
Tolerance from the personal growth perspective.
Another perspective of tolerance, especially towards people of different races, sexual preferences, religions, philosophies, or cultural-behavioral patterns, is curiosity triggering the excitement of learning about another person or worldview. The other person becomes an object of tolerance because you are getting something from them. You are beginning to find out how this different human being thinks, believes, acts, understands reality and you are filled with some level of joy because of the new knowledge that you have. You may not be really concerned about them as individuals, but more concerned about what they think and how they act. The focus of this toleration is on our own Self.
Tolerance from the rights perspective.
As my yoga teacher Pandit Rajmani Tigunait says, “Every way of life has its own reason for being and its own integrity.” When we impose our values and ideology on another person whom we consider not as valuable or advanced as our own, we are violating that person’s dignity. Every person has a right to have that dignity upheld and nurtured. When we do that we are living non-violently, even when we might think that that culture is wrong. This happens often between certain religious believers, like Muslims and Hindus and Christians and atheists.
So, how can we cultivate tolerance?
We need to remember that all human beings, no matter how different their race, beliefs, customs, rituals, and ways of life, are made in the image and likeness of God (as Judaism, Christianity and Islam believe) or that they are all divine, infinite and perfect beings at their core (as Yoga believes). We are all one human race, one human species, and there is nothing that can separate us from that reality. We are not only interconnected (as the modern, novel coronavirus has taught us), but all humans have the same aspiration—we long to live life fully and peacefully.
Today, especially we need to practice remembering this fact. Then we will cultivate our tolerance towards all, even the one we don’t like. We may even begin to love them!