Although the etymology of “tolerate” comes from the Latin “tolerate” (endure), the use of the concept of tolerance is modern. To tolerate implies an asymmetry: the part that tolerates the other has a pre-eminence over it, its power is greater, and therefore it grants to leave said power in suspense, supporting the weakest part.
Tolerance relations exist between countries, institutions and subjects, but, by force, they must imply asymmetry. Two pairs do not tolerate each other, since their power is equal.
Even so, we popularly believe tolerating someone for education, for contempt or for fear. We “endure” the other from our resigned forces, but that is not tolerance.
There is a use of the term tolerance that invites us to understand it, say, feel it from the inside. The physical manifestation of an intolerance reaction due to a food, medication or substance is a good way to illustrate a psychic process. In the case of a food intolerance, given the impossibility of accepting that “other”, of assimilating it, an answer is produced in which we are weakened, because that “other rejected” makes us sick. Colloquially we say, “I don’t drink this one.”
The French film Le Brio (“A brilliant reason”, Yvan Attal, 2017) helps us to elaborate attitudes that take us one step beyond tolerance. In it we find an asymmetric and conflicting relationship between two people who belong to the same social framework. He has more power, in that he is a teacher, representative of an institution, and he lives himself as a symbol of the status and defining cultural values of that society. She, a young student of Algerian descent, is known as the repository of the prejudices and clichés that her presence alone provokes; it is “the other”, that otherness that the digestive system of the host society cannot assimilate.
At first, both characters will only see what each one represents and symbolizes for the other, that is, the mask. Obviously, they “do not swallow.”
The proposal of the film is that the necessary collaboration between the two to achieve a common goal, implies that the best of each one emerges and by virtue of that they begin to look beyond the assumed masks.
When we see ourselves reflected in the intolerance of the other, in his rejection, the most common is to take an attitude of attack or fall back offended. And even, as at some point happens to the girl in the movie, accept the rhetoric that keeps us in that watertight place where intolerance pigeonholes us and, in a way, justifies us in failure.
Starting to see the other does not necessarily imply accepting it, but at least it is a real beginning for both parties. When in the disciplinary court the girl talks about the teacher, he hears not only the negative opinions, expressed crudely, but also the values she has discovered in him. And it is, perhaps, in that sincere speech, that he gives an account of the lights and shadows that the other offers us – without loading the inks in insults or in praise – where a small miracle is operated: being recognized. Unlike the word that qualifies or classifies us, the word that recognizes us calms violence. Well, being recognized is what we all look for and what, to a large extent, appeases the aggressiveness that we manifest in many different ways, always provoking rejection.
Returning to the initial idea, in each situation of asymmetry that forces us to be tolerant or tolerated, we can choose to “start seeing” the other, recognizing it, and trusting that the greatest force that each human being can exert by virtue, precisely , from his humanity, born of generosity and compassion. It is that force that will keep us alive as a species.