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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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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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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The space between positive and negative liberty

Negative liberty sounds like the ideal way to realize liberty for each individual. Taking away any interference would mean a person could do whatever he or she wants.

The reality is that too much negative liberty means either isolating yourself or taking away the liberty of others.
For instance, what if that ‘interference’ becomes the other individual’s liberty? Whose negative liberty would be more important, yours or the other’s? Negative liberty alone does not offer solutions for inter-individual conflicts, other than severing communication between those individuals. But that would mean taking away the (social) liberty for those individuals to be able to interact. So in the end, if everyone gets all the negative liberty they want, everyone loses, or ends up alone.

Too much positive liberty is not good either. That would mean liberty would be a prescription, rather than a preexisting condition, which means liberty would be artificial and liberty would not be authentic and therefore not free.

However, offering negative liberty exclusively as the gospel of all liberalism (or should I say a specific branch of liberalism) would mean the deconstruction of society itself, isolating everyone from each other or either letting one steal the liberty of the other, instead of realizing the presumption that differences would find their place if everyone would have as much negative liberty as possible. There will always be the need for some positive liberty to ease conflicts between the liberty of two or more individuals and offer a solution for the paradox that an individual with all the negative liberty in the world would not have individual liberty, but individual dictatorship, and take away all his or her own social liberty, as individuals could not have the opportunity to socially develop themselves. Then, not the state would be a threat to liberty, but the individual itself.

Too much negative liberty for one individual would mean less liberty for other individuals. Without realizing this, liberalism would be the enemy of itself. It works like magnets; having both a negative pole means the magnets push each other away, and both having a positive pole means the magnets push each other away again. Having one with some of the negative and one with some of the positive causes them to attract each other and the magnetism is complete. Without having the power and the resources, the liberty of an individual would be limited to his or her predisposition. Without having a defense against interference, the liberty of an individual would be endangered by external influences. However, with the power and resources to be free and ways to deal with interference, the net result would be even more liberty.

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