“But it is even more obvious that we must tolerate each other, because we are all weak, inconsequential, subdued to moving and error”, Voltaire.
We live in an increasingly plural and multicultural society, formed by a variety of social groups with different customs, beliefs and practices, and in our eagerness to live peacefully in a democratic, fair and free society, the principle of tolerance has become relevant as fundamental value in the social, political and ethical field.
From the philosophical point of view, tolerance can be conceived as an ethical value, as a virtue, a good moral quality, necessary to recognize the other, and respect their difference. A public virtue shared by all, regardless of the relativity and plurality of their beliefs, an essential and necessary value to achieve the objectives of justice, peace and freedom of today’s democracies.
Since its origins the term “tolerance” has had several meanings that we can summarize in two main meanings. The first, which we will call negative sense, comes from the Latin verb tollerare which means to support the beliefs and practices of others despite being contrary to ours, that is, living with what we disapprove, and a second meaning that comes from the Greek Talanton which means “balance”, and infers the search for the balance of beliefs and practices of the different human groups that make up a political community.
In this way we can consider two conceptions, a negative that tolerates the differences of those who are different and on the other hand, a positive one that considers the cultural diversity of others and tries to understand them.
These two conceptions are combined today to conceive a principle of tolerance that allows peaceful, creative, fair and free coexistence of the different human groups and cultures that make up democratic societies.
A human group is usually constituted around belonging to a territory, an ideology, a religion, etc., but it is consolidated, and its identity is deepened through mechanisms of ignorance and exclusion of the other groups. That is, the mechanisms of exclusion of others help to consolidate the identity of the group. These mechanisms can increase the differences with the rest of the groups until they reach indifference, hypocrisy, and worse, confrontation and violence.
It seems that the identity, growth and consolidation of the group grows inversely proportional to that of its tolerance to the other groups. In this sense, the tolerance and identity of the group are two forces, inclusion and exclusion, which are opposed. At the same time as we want to tolerate other cultures, practices and beliefs outside of us, by emphasizing their differences we tend to exclude them. A recognition of us from the ignorance of others.
This creates one of the main problems in the effective application of the principle of tolerance and according to the philosopher Gadamer makes tolerance the most infrequent virtue.
An example of this behavior is represented by some nationalist movements that develop a superidentity and become too exclusive, which usually leads to irreversible and irrational intolerance.
To achieve a more effective tolerance, which helps multicultural coexistence, we must limit our practices and beliefs, and in this way limit our group identity so that it does not affect coexistence with others. In addition to the respect sustained by tolerance in its negative meaning, positive tolerance, understanding of others, learning from others, is indispensable, which translates into how we interact, face and balance our differences, how we discuss our belief systems and practices in the public space, what we could call the tolerance of understanding.
Tolerance always implies respect, and in the best case, comprehension.