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The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

Tolerance as a Virtue

handsIn the “New World Order,” nations are becoming multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-“colorful.” The act of embracing our common humanity remains a task for all to strive toward. Embracing the right of everyone to be different without judgment, is something we each can nurture and act upon. As we strive to rejoice in this diversity, it will make us stronger, amplifying the very best part of human nature. We are a hemisphere of immigrants. In the U.S., this concentration of different people has lead to new ways of understanding, even with pockets of intolerance and hate fighting against the greater society. As an immigrant from the world’s cradle of civilization—Africa—I was welcomed into the U.S. and I have felt welcomed.

The idea of promoting tolerance is characteristic of many societies, including the U.S. Regardless of the current challenges, this country has stood as a beacon and role model to the rest of the world to strive for the common good of humankind. This year, 2018, is an ideal time to reaffirm the values that we share as we reflect on the International Day for Tolerance. These values first uttered by John Locke (1632-1704) and well articulated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. History has modeled and reaffirmed these words, inching us closer to peace.

So what is tolerance? It is an act of unconditional kindness, forgoing wrongdoing, burying anger and hatred, being liberated from anxiousness, bondage, prejudice, and hindrances. In essence tolerance is a prime virtue for human dignity, where diverse peoples can live together with a richness of beliefs and experiences, where people are willing to listen with tolerance and compassion. To live and let live.

In my own experience, having been raised by a Muslim father and a Christian mother in Nigeria, and being married to an Italian, I have an appreciation for the compatibility of multiple systems and beliefs, and of the traditions which began early in life. These have made my life richer. And I have found that in truly listening and living tolerance, that I have been the beneficiary of respect and acceptance.

If we plan to promote intolerance, I urge that it be against tyranny in any form. Let us promote social justice by our very own actions and deeds. Let us look to ourselves to ask what we have to work on? Let us not be content with the status quo. Let us ask ourselves what we have in common with our community and what we are doing to welcome and accept those who seek a helping hand both in America and abroad.

In contemplating these questions myself, it is clear that we all need to step outside of our comfort zones, and at the minimum, use the soft power of parenthood, and friendship, to help both children and those in need, to embrace and understand the absolute virtue of tolerance. Let us promote inclusive knowledge, promote justice, and openly address issues of prejudice and discrimination. Let us make multiculturalism a continuum and not a conversation on separate culture, a Mosaic of cultural coexistence and interfere. Let us test our own reactions and assumptions. I will continue to strive to follow the Commandment I was raised with, ”Above all, love one another.”

It is for each of us to decide how we can strive to live and model the gift of tolerance and acceptance in each of our hearts and minds. We are strengthened by the efforts of those who have gone before us to achieve this unique place in history, where peoples from all walks of life in the world, like myself, have enjoyed the beauty of this American experience. It has allowed me to become a global citizen and advocate for peace on a world stage. Understanding that tolerance is unique in many parts of the world, I have worked with others to bring international visitors here solely to absorb the American experience. They become witnesses and spokespersons for the benefits of tolerance and living together with differences. Each returns a spokesperson in some way, of having witnessed these phenomena.

My older sister was flabbergasted, for example, that she saw a Mosque, Jewish Temple, and Christian Church as next-door neighbors while visiting me in the U.S. When she returned to Northern Nigeria, she was telling everyone who would listen. They trusted her account and perceived America and cultural tolerance in new ways.

I am reminded of the words of Rumi (1207-1273), a Sufi scholar, writer and poet who summed up tolerance as unconditional acceptance, patience, love, compassion, and benevolence embodied in what he referred to as ‘Seven Advices’ which epitomize the highest sentiment of humanity, transcends religious boundaries, and encompasses the common values of all religions:

  • In generosity and helping others: be like the river
  • In compassion and grace: be like the sun.
  • In concealing others’ faults: be like the night.
  • In anger and fury: be like the dead.
  • In modesty and humility: be like the soil.
  • In tolerance: be like the ocean.
  • Either you appear as you are, or: be as you appear.

So let us celebrate the 2018 International Day for Tolerance, renewing and retooling our own efforts to strive for these virtues. I hope to model tolerance in my daily life to my children and those who I am fortunate enough to cross paths with. Modesty and humility allow us to put down our preconceptions, personal differentiations, and preferences. In any faith and knowledge, practice will bring forth many good fruits.

Hauwa IbrahimHauwa Ibrahim, Esq., is a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College whose research interests include the root causes of terrorism, including radicalization of youth and building bridges of cooperation between religious and non-religious communities.

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