Tolerance and forgiveness
So what does it mean, the word tolerance? The Cambridge online dictionary gives two different meanings:
- Acceptance: a willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs which are different from your own, although you might not agree with or approve of them
- Ability to bear: the ability to bear something unpleasant or annoying, or to continue existing despite disadvantageous conditions
And now, let's imagine that we learned how to be tolerant. Now why would we have to learn how to forgive? It's because forgiveness is the cure against hate / bitterness. According to Levinas there is a constant movement between peace and war. The two are strongly related. Peace is a temporary state of quietness which can be disturbed by the fights of war anytime. On the other hand it is because war exists that humans can make peace, by ending a war. There is totality on the one hand and infinity on the other hand. Totality is selfish, I want to possess the whole world, even other humans, I want to controll everything, I want to be powerful, almighty. I treat other humans as if they are objects. With objects I can do what I like, I can break them if I am strong enough, they can't resist (if they are made of weak material), they can't talk to me and tell me to stop it. I don't have to respect an object, I can do with it whatever I like, as long as the owner of the object doesn't become mad at me and tries to stop me. This is totality / totalitarianism / egoism. It means that I kill the other, either literally, or in a symbolic way, that I dehumanize him, that I treat him as an object.
At the other side of the spectrum there is Infinity. God is Infinity, He is infinitely good and almighty. The other can open up my selfish world , my immoral totality. When I see his face in front of me, when he does a moral appeal to me, I feel ashamed that I am so selfish. Because he opens up my own little world, my prison, I can see that there is more, I can see a glimpse of Infinity, of God. I can feel that the other person does an appeal to me, and that he does so in the name of God. This means that a strong moral appeal is coming to me from the outside, from a person who is totally different from me. I realise that this person is a human being, not an object, I cannot reduce him to an object in my totalitarian world, because he resists my totalisation. Because the way the other speaks to me, because I see his face, I can see a glimpse of Infinity, and I feel an urge to take my responibility upon me and to respond to the other in a morally just way. I start to listen to what that person says, I respect him as a human, I tolerate him with all my heart, I accept him completely the way he is, I forgive him for whatever he has done to me.
So let's imagine there's a war going on. Two persons hate each other, they are fighting with the aim to destroy each other. It's a long time ago since they regarded each other as humans, now the one person sees the other person as an enormous monster, a devil which is completely evil (and also the other way around). The only way to end this evil is to kill it, since it is clear that it doesn't make sense to negotiate with the devil to reach an agreement, and it is even more stupid to ask the devil to become a good person or to forgive him for what he has done. So in this totalitarian world there is no place for forgiveness or tolerance. This is a completely immoral world where people only kill and destroy.
In fact this situation of war is bad for both persons. Even if one person succeeds in killing / destroying the other person, in the end, so that he can be happy that he won the fight, then still he has wasted a lot of energy only on destruction, nothing constructive / positive. And for sure he will have got injured himself also during the fight. If both people could decide together that they want to stop the painful destructive fight, it would be much better for both of them. How can they achieve that, that the fight ends? It doesn't work if only one person stops. Then he becomes an easy target for the other one to kill him with one strike.
Somehow I have to convince the other person that I want to stop fighting, but only if he stops too. I have to make him think about what we are doing, that he realises that the destruction is useless. The atmosphere of hate and destruction should be judged as bad and replaced by a more friendly positive atmosphere. An atmosphere in which forgiveness is possible, from both sides. Once that is really possible, there is no need to fight anymore.
So what should happen is that I say to the other: "Wait a minute, can you stop fighting, just for one minute? Look what we are doing here, this destruction leads to nothing. I am willing to stop this fight, do you want that too? I am willing to forgive you for all the harm you did to me, if you promise me that you want to stop hurting me."
So this is why we have to learn to forgive...
Now here is another part of the "Bowl of Saki" text about tolerance and forgiveness:
To become cold with the coldness of the world is weakness, and to become broken by the hardness of the world is feebleness, but to live in the world and yet to keep above the world is like walking on water. Tolerance is the sign of an evolved soul, for a soul shows the proof of its evolution in the degree of the tolerance it shows. The life in the lower creation shows the lack of
tolerance. As one evolves spiritually, a person seems to rise above this natural tendency of intolerance, for the reason that he begins to see, besides himself and the second person, God; and he unites himself with the other person in God. But when a soul has evolved still more, tolerance becomes the natural thing for him. Because the highly evolved soul then begins to realize that "Another person is not separate from me, but the other person is myself. The separation is on the surface of life, but in the depth of life I and the other person are one."
Tolerance is the first lesson of morals, and the next is forgiveness. A person who tolerates another only out of fear, through pride, from a sense of honor, or by the force of circumstances does not know real tolerance. Tolerance is a consideration by which one overlooks the fault of
another and gives no way in oneself to the impulse of resistance. It is in our own power to choose the view of imperfection (looking only at mistakes without offering forgiveness) or the vision of perfection (to choose for respect and forgiveness), and the difference is only looking down or looking upwards. By a slight change of attitude in one's outlook on life one can make the world into either hell or heaven. The more one tolerates, the stronger one becomes in this way. It is the tolerant who is thoughtful. And as thought becomes greater, one becomes more tolerant.
The words of Christ: Resist not evil, teach tolerance.
When a person begins to see all goodness as being the goodness of God, all the beauty that surrounds him as the divine beauty, he begins by worshipping a visible God, and as his heart constantly loves and admires the divine beauty in all that he sees, he begins to see in all that is visible one single vision; all becomes for him the vision of the beauty of God. His love of beauty increases his capacity to such a degree that great virtues such as tolerance and forgiveness spring naturally from his heart. Even things that people mostly look upon with contempt, he views with tolerance.
In order to learn forgiveness man must learn tolerance first. And there are people whom man cannot forgive. It is not that he must not forgive, but it is difficult, beyond his power to forgive, and in that case the first thing he can do is to forget. The first step towards forgiveness is to forget. They say, 'Forgive and forget', which is very expressive of the process of forgiveness. It
is impossible to forgive unless you can forget. What keeps man from forgiving his fellow man is that he holds the fault of another constantly before his view. It is just like sticking a little thorn in one's own heart and keeping it there and suffering the pain. It may also be pictured as putting a drop of poison in one's own heart and retaining it until the whole heart becomes poisoned. Verily, blessed are the innocent, who do not notice anybody's fault, and the greater credit is to the mature souls, who, recognizing a fault, forget it and so forgive. How true are the words of Christ, 'Let those throw a stone who have not sinned.' The limitations of human life make man subject to faults. Some have more faults, some have less, but there is no soul without faults. As Christ says, 'Call me not good.'Forgiveness is a stream of love, which washes away all
impurities wherever it flows. By keeping this spring of love, which is in the heart of man, running, man is able to forgive, however great the fault of his fellow man may seem. One who cannot forgive closes his heart. The sign of spirituality is that there is nothing you cannot forgive, there is no fault you cannot forget. Do not think that he who has committed a fault yesterday must do
the same today, for life is constantly teaching and it is possible in one moment a sinner may turn into a saint.