Wait A Minute! ~ INTOLERANCE

Countless wars have been caused by it; it gives rise to hatred and violence; untold arguments, feuds and crimes stem from it; it is so much a part of some societies, religions and political systems that it is practically an institution; it is synonymous with fanaticism and bigotry. Intolerance is one of the greatest causes of trouble in the world.

Where does it come from? It is important to know if we are to counteract it. Can we identify its source? Yes, it’s simple: it comes from the idea of self. We see the world in terms of self and not-self, and thus there is always comparison: self compared with others; we feel separate from the rest of existence, unaware that we are part of it. Now, at our present stage of evolution, we probably could not live without comparing; it gives us a needed sense of security, even if it is false.

Because we are basically unsure about ourselves, we look at others to see what they are doing and how they are doing it; we then compare ourselves with that, to see if we are ‘better’, ‘worse’, or ‘the same’. If we compare ourselves with people who seem to be more fortunate and better-off than us, envy might arise: ‘I would like to be like them; they are so lucky!’ If we compare ourselves with others who are less well-off, pride might arise: ‘I am better than them’. It does not have to happen like this, of course; we could feel joy for others who are better-off than us, instead of envy; we could feel sympathy rather than pride towards those who are less well-off; we could, but seldom do.
Comparison gives rise to the idea of norms or standards —by observing how the majority of people do things, and comparing it with the way others (the minority) do them; anyone doing things differently is regarded as ‘abnormal’. But what is normal? If we studied people and things closely, we might find that there is no such thing; it is only an idea, artificial and arbitrary, and has the effect of dividing us and stifling individuality of expression. The Holy Inquisition, which was responsible for the persecution and death of millions of innocent people, was based on standards devised by a Pope of the Catholic Church, and implemented by many of his successors over a period of several centuries. (Needless to say, there was nothing holy about it; on the contrary, it was the most unholy institution ever!) Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ for the Jews came from his rabid desire to eliminate anyone who did not fit his notion of the ‘Aryan Superman’. Nor was it only the Jews who suffered from his intolerance; gypsies, cripples, homosexuals, communists and certain artists and writers also became targets. He permitted nobody to stand in the way of achieving his vision.

We could learn to compare better than we are used to, so that prejudice might decrease and wisdom increase. You see, it usually happens when we compare ourselves with others that we allow our emotions to interfere and distort things; selfish desire and fear come in; bias and prejudice take over. We should be honest about our feelings; it’s quite alright to dislike things (nobody likes everything or everyone); but we should be sufficiently mature and in control that we do not always allow our likes and dislikes to rule our lives. We should be able to examine the rationale behind our feelings, and be willing to put our preferences behind us at times, because we cannot always have what we want or like, and it wouldn’t be good if we could. How spoiled and arrogant we would become if we could always gratify ourselves!

Our understanding of self and others is inaccurate; we begin with an unclear self-view that comes from comparison: I am handsome/ugly; he is ugly/handsome. I am smart/dumb; she is dumb/smart. I am good/they are bad, and so on. By what standards do we judge? Are they natural standards, valid in all times and places? Or are they just relative concepts that change? Can we establish, once and for all, in a manner that would be acceptable to everyone, what is good, bad, handsome, ugly, right, wrong, smart, dumb, etc.? Do we not all have elements of good and bad in us? If we want to, we can see good in bad and bad in good, right in wrong and wrong in right, regardless of whether or not they are there. And even the most externally ugly person may have some beauty inside him, the most intelligent person some flaw. A poor man may be rich in spirit, and a rich man poor; there are many ways to be rich and poor, and not just in terms of money.

Who is so perfect that he dares think of himself as the model or ideal for others? This is how intolerance arises. In their ignorance and conceit, some people think of themselves as so good, so right, that no-one else can possibly be as good or right, and should therefore become like photocopies of them. We like others to accept our standards, and some of us try to impose them on others; Christian missionaries are notorious for this in their zeal to convert others, while knowing little or nothing—or even misunderstanding—about their ways.

If we would realize and accept the fact that nature knows nothing of equality or uniformity but produces things in variety, maybe intolerance would not arise; we would feel more secure about ourselves and would more readily accept people as they are—different, unique and special—and not expect or want them to conform to our standards. It is because we are insecure in ourselves that we feel threatened by the differences of others and want them to be like us, so that we won’t be alone, the thought of which terrifies us. Funny, though, because in another way, we also want to be different, and would hate to live in a society like Mao’s China, where everyone dressed alike! What we really want in our confusion, we do not know.

Some years ago, I overheard some young people making fun of someone who was rather effeminate and calling him ‘queer’. “Hold on a minute”, I said, “before you go making fun of others in this way, you need to be sure of a few things. First, you should know that very few people want to be as they are; are you content with the way you are? Is there nothing you would change about yourself if you could? We are as we are because of circumstances and conditions, not by choice. Secondly, can you be sure that if and when you marry and have children, none of them will turn out to be like the people you make fun of now?” It caused them to think somewhat, and one of them vowed never again to make fun of others who were different from him. If only it were often so easy to explain things to others and be understood!

Right now, we may be ‘alright’, but because everything changes and nothing remains the same, it might happen that we become ‘not alright’, and how would we feel then? From what I can gather, getting married is usually a happy thing (at the time of the event and shortly after, at least, but several people, speaking with hind-sight, have informed me how lucky I am to be unmarried and advised me to remain so! I wasn’t sure if they were joking or serious); it is also a tremendous gamble, and many people lose. If and when they have children there is absolutely no way to know how they will turn out; they cannot be ordered to specification.

It has been reported that, according to some statistics (though how true it is we cannot say), about 10% of the world’s population is gay, or have homosexual tendencies. If it is true, it would mean that there are about 600 million gay people, male and female, in the world—an astounding figure! And every one of them has or had a mother and father; they were not brought by storks or found under bushes in the garden. Some parents blame themselves and ask what they did wrong that caused their child to become gay; but it is not the fault of the parents; there is no-one to blame; there is no pill that a woman may take—not yet, anyway—to guarantee that the child in her womb will not be gay. Being gay is something in-born, something of nature rather than nurture, because who, in their right mind, would choose to be gay, when there is just so much suffering involved? No-one would choose to be fat or ugly, would they? We do not know why or how people become gay, but it is surely not by choice; we should be quite clear about this. We may not like or understand gays, but there are good reasons to restrain ourselves from being intolerant towards them, lest it comes back to us.

No-one can prove or disprove reincarnation, but the wide-spread belief in it indicates we should suspend judgment and say ‘maybe, maybe not’ rather than ‘pooh-poohing’ the idea. People who claim to be able to see the continuum of past lives through to the present—mediums, clairvoyants, psychics or seers—say that arrogance, derision, scornful laughter and so on produce terrible consequences later on because of the pain caused to others thereby. How far this is true I cannot say, as I am not one of such people. But I can see that terrible things do happen in the world, and feel that it is better to restrain ourselves now than to ‘eat humble pie’ later if the kind of thing that we have condemned or made fun of in others happens to us or someone near and dear to us; there, but for fortune, go you and I. Life seems to have methods for correcting our shortcomings, but they are seldom painless; wouldn’t it be better if we tried to correct them ourselves, and avoid the necessity of life doing it painfully?
We can look back and see that we have come here from the past, with much pain and struggle, but we cannot, with equal certainty, look into the future and see where we are going. One thing we can be certain of, however, is that we will not stay as we are now. And although you and I will grow older and eventually die, that which we are part of will continue to evolve, assisted, maybe, by something of our individual efforts during our appearance here. We pass, you and I, but the show goes on, and the players on the stage of the future might benefit from things that we are doing now. Let us live, therefore, with open arms, open minds, and open hearts.

The world awaits us.

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