Tolerance and understanding

Tolerance and understanding


A free person in a free society is able to tolerate other individuals’ behaviour. A society cannot be free if another individual is not allowed to be different, in any way. Moreover, if one does not tolerate the other, how could the other tolerate the one? It is a mutual responsibility.

Nevertheless, tolerance has been severely misunderstood from both moderate and extreme sides. To tolerate does not mean to accept, to tolerate does not mean to understand. A nuisance can be tolerated, but a person might as well ask the other to adapt her or his behaviour to make the nuisance more bearable, or not existent at all. Many heinous crimes are being tolerated today, but would they be accepted if they were in our back yard? And some things need to be tolerated, because they are simply not always understood by everyone.

Less Judgement, More Tolerance

Less Judgement, More Tolerance

It’s easy to judge a person carrying strange clothes and walking in a strange way. It’s easy to judge a person who talks strange, speaks a different language or has different beliefs. But if we would judge each other so much, how could we live with each other? One person may be very quiet, the other may be very loud. So what? Perhaps that person likes to be quiet, perhaps that person does not choose to be quiet but has underlying reasons to be quiet. And the person that is loud, perhaps she or he needs attention, perhaps she or he is just used to being loud. That’s why we need tolerance, it should be tolerated, even if we wouldn’t understand where the behaviour is coming from.


Combined with tolerance comes understanding. A behaviour that is understood is much easier to be tolerated. Why does a cat jump up a tree? Why does the dog bark at the mail deliverer? Why do religious people pray and non-religious people don’t? Find out, I’d say, and be a more knowledgeable person than you are now. Because it gives many insights into human behaviour, but not the least important: your own behaviour.

Understanding other behaviours means reflecting on your own behaviours. Why do I do this, and another person something different? Perhaps there is a reason why that other person responds to me in this way, and it could be changed by changing my own behaviour. This is what understanding does, and this is how understanding enhances tolerance.



People build virtual walls around themselves for a reason. Other people are often too judgemental. In order to protect her- or himself, a person never shows her or his true self at first sight. Therefore, to reach understanding, a person has to do more than only look at the first appearance. A person has to do more than judge within the usual framing. A quiet person is not necessarily shy. A shy person is not necessarily quiet. A shy person does not choose to be quiet and another person may just prefer to listen first, and talk later. Conversely, a loud person may be ready to listen, or she or he just likes to listen to her- or himself.

Each person is an island to discover, so don’t pass that island before exploring it first, or don’t judge at all. Tolerate what should be tolerated, but anything that could be tolerated should not necessarily be tolerated. I understand a thief stealing my phone completely, considering her or his troublesome personal situation, whatever that may be; no job, no family… but that does not make stealing right. Should stealing be accepted? No. But it should be understood.

Understand, understand what and how to tolerate, and don’t judge what or whom you don’t understand.

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The conservative trap

An interesting observation to me is that some confuse libertarian conservatism with (classical) liberalism. There are some profound differences that may be easily overlooked.

SLECO chart

SLECO chart

A classical liberal seeks individual liberty, economic freedom, a small government and rule of law. These components are shared with social liberalism and in some degree conservative liberalism. However, it does not mean implicitly demanding other individuals to be similar to oneself. A liberal loves differences. It is a privilege to be different from somebody else, not similar. Of course, similarities are welcome, but they are not a condition to live in the same society.

Whereas the libertarian conservative cares about individual liberty, it is a concept of individual liberty that conforms to her/his sense of reality. It is a sense of liberty that confines itself to the primary individual and is not concerned about other individuals. It does not mean social justice has to be included in every school of liberalism, but this does mean that it rejects value pluralism. A component that is significant to liberalism, but hardly accepted in schools of conservatism. This makes a libertarian conservative in core a conservative, and not a liberal.

Why is this so important to realize? Well, if libertarian conservatism is considered to be a subset of liberalism, it opens a window of opportunity to seek those who conform to the values of some branch of libertarian conservatism and does not promote the diversity of values. A Christian may be a Christian, a Jew may be a Jew, a Muslim may be a Muslim, and and Atheist may be an Atheist. A painter is a painter, a scientist a scientist and an economist an economist. There should only be an individual distinction with them, without projection of certain values or prejudices.

Liberalism is not solely about “live and let live”, it’s about “live without infringing on the lives of others”. Most schools of liberalism would not violate this, libertarian conservatism would. Even if the harm principle is respected to a certain degree, the implicit enforcement of monist values on other individuals reduces the pluralism of values and therefore is a restriction of liberty in society. This is why we should be wary about identifying anything or anybody who claims to be freedom-loving and advocating individual liberty with liberalism. This is not true until a truly free society is advocated too.

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Towards a world federation

Information technology has provided revolutions in the late 20th century and until today in the 21st century. Not only did it contribute (I won’t say it was actually the main means, but it was a significant component) to the Arab Spring of this year 2011, it has been largely responsible for the globalization of the world society. Sending a letter through the mail from one country to another may have taken weeks or even more than a month to arrive in the 19th century. Now, sending an e-mail message is just a click of a button and it arrives within seconds.

It’s dazzling to realize what this actually means. We take it for granted that we have these technologies that provide us (but also make us dependent on it) the means to communicate with somebody who is on the other side of the world as if that person would be sitting next to you.

I’m not sure when exactly this information revolution really started, but I could safely say that when the telephone and the telegraph were invented, the shock wave started, and when the Internet was introduced, it was unstoppable. Autocratic governments are well aware of what this means to them. Formerly, it was easy to hide information that they did not want to share with the rest of the world, because the distribution of information was simply under their control. Now they’re taking all kinds of desperate measures to regain control of the distribution of information, because the world can see what it couldn’t see before.



The world can see it now. Why is that a problem for oppressive regimes and a fortune for humanity? The world as a whole cannot judge on the colour of a skin, the colour of the hair, the sound of a voice or a political affiliation. Citizens of planet Earth, when altogether combined, are indiscriminate to each other, except for their own individual differences, because they are all different and all unique. United differences. One of the best combinations of words that could describe this is the EU motto: “United in Diversity”. A high quality union of diverse nations, diverse regions, diverse people, does not facilitate extreme nationalism or national divides. Instead of war on the battlefield, at sea or in the air, wars are waged on the political stage.

I have no concerns for freedom to be in danger in the situation of a world government, at least, a federal one. One of the reasons is as described before: if the world is not governed by special interests of particular groups, brought down to a number of diplomats horse trading in closed rooms, but as a union of humanity, human values will be represented, human dignity will be defended and human rights will be enforced. The citizens of the world should have a voice in the world, as they do on a continental, national, regional and local level. Not having one is exactly what allows autocratic regimes to do what they want with few consequences, until the international community (as far as it can be united on anything) responds some time later with measures that work sometimes and don’t work at other times.

So what the world needs now is for the individual to be the highest decision-making body in the world, by bringing her/him to the global political stage. A single person representing a people will always represent him- or herself in some way. Citizens should represent themselves, in a way that can be held accountable.

This is my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of any organization I am associated with.

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The Mind of a Dictator

The Mind of a Dictator

One Way

One Way

What do all dictators have in common? They lack empathy. Empathy is the one trait of a human being that assures that a person cares about the feelings of another. Dictators can be ruthless and merciless, because they don’t “feel”. Shutting down their empathic emotions makes it possible for them to ignore the consequences of their policies and acts.

It is also their weakness. A massive uprising is usually a surprise for them, because they have no clue about what’s going on among the citizens of the country they have hijacked. They are not prepared for a massive protest that takes over the streets and government institutions.

A large manifestation of discontent, guided by the empathy of hundreds of thousands of people for their shared beliefs and goals, then proves to be more powerful than the merciless emotional deafness of a dictator. He may not hear the shouts, but he will feel them, as soon as the crowds gather and know that when they are united, a dictator can’t stop them.

Nevertheless, there are different types of dictators. We know now that Al-Gaddafi is ruthless and keen on using extreme violence. His tactics of African mercenaries show that the military is his supposed solution to stem the unrest. Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi’s speech was a clear example of how selfish and egocentric arguments (oil, money, predicting so-called chaos) were used to try to persuade citizens to stop protesting. The Libyan people know better. Their empathic manifestation has grown to strong to ignore it any longer. The primary cause, apart from being fueled and activated by the events in Tunisia and Egypt, is indeed about the economy, jobs, corruption, but the underlying problem is the regime itself. The citizens know this.
Khamenei’s and Ahmadinejad’s modus operandi are using morale. By using protesters in favour of the government, they hope to create the impression on the opposition that their cause might not be as shared as they thought it would be. But the Iranian people are used to their lies and the Iranian people know very well that the government uses these tactics, among others security forces as civilians, to try to stop the threats.

Empathy, trust


This is why Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt, Iran is not Tunisia or Egypt, Bahrain is not Tunisia or Egypt, and so on. They need a different approach if the protesters hope to topple their government. Making good use of the common trait of lack of empathy, the road to a solution may be on the same crossroads: to surprise them. To show them what they have ignored for so long: the massive discontent and injustice they have caused for so long.

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Heroes for freedom, Iran

After Iran’s tenth Presidential Election, political and civil unrest have been around Iran. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has taken the role of the President of Iran ever since, with the support of Seyed Ali Khamenei.

The international community has enough reasons to claim the elections were rigged, and the results of the elections are false. Nevertheless, the current government of Iran has a brutal policy towards its own citizens when it concerns the freedom of assembly and the freedom of speech. Iranian citizens have used their human right to voice their opinion on the elections by protesting on the streets and telling the world that Iran is not free, and that Iran is oppressed by its rulers, despite being ruthlessly beaten, being shot by (military) police or even run over by cars.

Even now, there are political prisoners, uncertain about their lives, whether they can see their family and friends, or whether they can see another day. As of now, Iranian student Habibollah Latifi‘s life is in danger, because his execution is set tomorrow. He has been charged for being member of an armed separatist group, but his family ascertains that he is being punished for being politically active.

Imprisoned student activists have begun a hunger strike because they can not see their family and friends. What is more, student activist Bahareh Hedayat is in need of surgery in prison because she is reportedly suffering from gall bladder stones.

Any person with a heart and conscience knows that this is unacceptable. Whether you are conservative or progressive, socialist or libertarian, the right to believe what you want, the right to say and even think what you want is the same right as opposing it. People may agree or may not agree, but what does not show greatness in leadership is the show of force; it is governing with the absence of force.

2010 February 11: Demonstration on Dam Square in Amsterdam

Demonstration on Dam Square in Amsterdam
(11 February 2010)

The Green Movement has shown unfaltering strength and conviction in overthrowing oppression and bringing justice for the people of Iran. With the honour of witnessing and speaking before a demonstration on 11 February 2010 in Amsterdam, it has become clear that the free people of Iran are done with the oppression. So should the international community.

Everything should be done, even before tomorrow to stop the execution of Habibollah Latifi and all others who share his situation, including Bahareh Hedayat, to help the citizens of Iran to retain their rights as human beings to live their lives as they see fit, to believe what they want to believe and to think and say what they want to think and say. This is our duty as fellow human beings, not Dutchmen, not Germans, British, Americans, Norwegians or even Europeans, but as human beings. We would not want our own country to be left alone in oppression, not being able to be who and what we are and want to be. To work for our dreams and rejoice on what we have and what we could be.

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Connecting with people

It should not be underestimated how important it really is to connect with people. People can talk all they want, be listened to if they have a good listener, but is there a real connection?

Connections of persons are two-way. If you are communicating one-way by talking and, perhaps, having somebody that listens, you are having a monologue. This is not a connection, because you are pushing information towards one or more other persons and are not receiving any feedback.

A real connection is when two or more persons interact with each other, try to understand each other, show interest in the message they exchange with each other and actually develop their relations as they go.

For example, a talk about the weather is nice. We all do sometimes; either we complain about rain or enjoy the sunshine, are happy or unhappy about snow or just like to see the hail while being comfortably inside a building. However, a talk about the weather does not develop relations between persons.

What I mean is when two or more persons try to understand each other, the communication is on a whole different level. It starts off by adapting a message to the person that receives it and if the other does not fully understand it, he or she will ask to clarify it and may or may not communicate back.

Depending on the level of communication, an interpersonal connection adds value to the relations between persons. People who do not connect never really commit to others. I will not say they never keep their promises, but they definitely occasionally have trouble taking the feelings and thoughts of others into account. On the other hand, people who are, as it is said, ‘well-connected’ are those who show sincere interest in others. Who communicate both ways, talk, listen, clarify, empathise, sympathise and don’t forget that they are a partner in a process and are not in it alone.

A trained person will really notice the difference between people who, perhaps even the most popular people, don’t really connect, and those who connect well. I’m not sure about how many people I would say are ‘well-connected’ and how many are not, though I meet people from both sides.

On a personal note, I like to connect with people myself. As soon as there is a good conversation, the conversation starts to become really engaging. It doesn’t matter how much one or the other speaks, as long as they listen to each other and try to understand each other. This is also when I really start to see what kind of person I am dealing with. A person who connects well usually isn’t afraid to show his or her genuine personality and that makes it a lot more convenient to get to know the person as the person really is.

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Gender emancipation from an individual perspective

Emancipation as a government policy is often approached by applied rules or negotiations between civil society groups, trying to artificially make good for the ages of male dominance in political, corporate or even domestic areas of life.

However, my view of emancipation is completely different. The reason emancipation still needs work is because that part of emancipation that is incomplete is in the hands of men and women themselves.

Movements like feminism and civil rights groups are an excellent method of bringing emancipation and the rights of (particularly) women to attention. I support them wholeheartedly and encourage them to keep informing and stimulating (future) politicians to introduce all-gender-friendly policy everywhere.

But where emancipation still needs some work is how men and women treat each other in daily life. Not necessarily in the office, in debates or in the house. It’s how men treat women and how women are being treated by men. It cuts both ways.

While watching certain music videos, one can notice that women are often half-naked, dancing around the men who play a central role in the video clip. Or the video clip has a woman who makes erotic moves and seduces the men in the video. There is no reason why I would want to censor or even ban these videos. To some extent (having regard for the age of the viewer), anything legal should be allowed to be shown in a music video.

What this has to do with emancipation, however, is the way how (mostly) teens are being taught to think. These videos teach kids from a young age (easily influenced) that women should be attractive and men should be butch. This is completely contrary to the goal of emancipation, which is that men and women are on the same level. Being butch means dominating the female, while being attractive means being dependent on your looks and seduction skills.

Music videos aren’t the only medium that exposes people to this idea. For example, one can see in a commercial poster that (sometimes photo shopped) photos of women are shown, posing in a way to have good looks, but usually (to me) hardly expose any of their genuine personality. And, actually, the same holds for men on these posters.

My point here is this: forget constantly focusing on quotas and other (positively) discriminatory practices. Of course, we want women to be judged by their character and personality, not primarily by their looks, and therefore get the job they deserve, get elected to the highest public offices and let men be in the kitchen for a change. But primarily setting quotas will not be a long term solution.

This is what needs to change in order to make emancipation work from an individual level towards every field where emancipation is an issue, and holds for both men and women.

  • Avoid using or responding to erotic terms like “sexy” or “hot”. These are only appropriate when they’re actually in an erotic context.
    Instead, tell him or her something positive about his or her personality. How he or she makes you smile, or how witty he or she is. It’s not wrong to tell someone he or she is looking good, but don’t make it the central issue of his or her presence. If you want to be judged for your personality, then don’t allow someone to void your personality with your looks.
  • Look for eye contact, and listen. And keep listening. Listening is more important than speaking. You know you are equal partners in social engagement if and when a silent moment is not awkward, and he or she actually responds to what you have said (and vice versa).
  • If someone smiles at you, they’re not always hitting on you. They might just be trying to be friendly. Smile back. Start worrying when he or she starts making inappropriate moves.
  • Use compliments wisely. Only use them if you really mean them. If you compliment all the time, they inflate in their value. The most valuable compliments are the compliments that are used in the right moment, to the right person and last but not least, for the right reason. And with that, I mean compliments should never be used for personal gain, but only to let someone know he or she is doing something good.
  • Don’t stress your gender too much. Stereotyping yourself isn’t really the way to dissociate yourself from them. Saying things like “I’m a man, so I can’t do multiple things at the same time” (regardless of whether it’s true or not), or “I’m blonde, so that explains”, does not help yourself in the emancipation process. If it’s not a joke, then don’t say it.

Why are these things important, in my opinion? Because these acts ensure that all men and women are judged for who they are, and not how they look, or what role they should have in society.

If men and women are not viewed as actually being men and women outside of a romantic context, then that is when emancipation is complete. If people would almost refer to a person of the other gender as “that person” rather than “that man” or “that woman”, then you can smile and say: “that’s emancipation”.

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