They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

So, tolerance wasn’t that good?

So, tolerance wasn't that good?

By Sara Plaza

No, it was not and it is not. Let's say that it is not good enough, that it is not that much. Let's say that it was meant to be good but could not, it intended to be good but did not work. And that's it: we continue talking about accepting others, about acknowledging the difference, even about valuing it. However, we do not take any step further. We are quite comfortable with just an underlying note of folklore in our homogeneous, global and insipid systems; a colorful mark in the grey standardization of our uses and manners, of our customs; a subtle touch that lightens or darkens the pastel drawing without stridencies in which we are immersed. We behave as if everything was right. It does not matter if, in fact, everything is wrong. It makes no difference whether we have any intention of getting it better either.

A few weeks ago, I read some lines in the newspaper from the Peruvian writer Iván Thays, in which he recommended:

Withdraw from use the word "tolerance", much of the liking of these writers eager to tolerate, with good sense of humor, those who they consider hegemonic or excluded minorities, and let's propose "plurality" instead. And better than arguing for being falsely united around a duty, do it for defending others' difference.

His thoughts were related to the fuss about nothing that a number of Peruvian writers kicked up a few months ago when they intended to decide which of them, "hegemonic" vs. "excluded", or "Creole" vs. "Andean", best represented their country's literature. However, I believe that his lines are equally appropriate to other fields, not only literature. Precisely because, as this author born in Lima stated in the same article:

Just read any biography of writers, or any story of an age, to know about quarrels and more quarrels. Actors change, arguments change, everything and whatever changes, literary and human quality change, but it never changes the instinct for confrontation and the need for defeating (with or without arguments) the other.

Will it be necessary to tolerate at first in order to defeat later? Will tolerance be the first step towards victory? Let's imagine it: we come closer, get into confidence and zap! break it into pieces; everything with a smile, of course.

This is what I was doing, analyzing with humor all kinds of meaning that my dictionary suggested for the word "tolerance", and deciding whether it seemed worse to me "the difference that is permitted" or the "willingness to admit the way someone is, does and thinks different from me, especially regarding religious issues and practices" – I had previously rejected "body ability to withstand higher doses of a drug"–, when I turned a few pages back and came across the not very enlightening explanations about "plurality". Then, I remained thinking whether "the quality of being more than one" was really better than "the action of tolerating", what forced me to also look up "to tolerate": to stand others with indulgence [doing something that you disapprove]". Quite honestly, in case of doubt dictionaries enlighten as less as priests. If you do not believe me, ask Ramón, the main character in Mario Benedetti's novel "Gracias por el fuego" (Thanks for the fire):

I have not committed any sin, I said at the confessional. Son, you should not be such a haughty boy, have you not thrown your schoolmates a sinful look? From that moment I decided to get rid of my haughtiness. I had not looked at the girls. However, the following day, I did everything possible to look at them sinfully. Today I can confess a sin, I said on Sunday at the confessional. This priest was older that the previous and looked at me with suspiciousness. Which one? I threw my schoolmates a sinful look. I was brimming with satisfaction because I had defeated my haughtiness. You do not have to be haughty, said the older priest, you should never be proud of being a sinful person. I said quickly the thirty Lord's Prayers and got out of there running. I opened my dictionary at the word sinful: event, say, desire, thought or omission against God's Law and its precepts. Yes, of course, I had looked at the girls with omission.

Yet smiling, I shared my findings with Edgardo (reading in silence has never been of my liking and I use to make comments on every line with those who surround me, showing very little respect, I have to admit, towards whatever they intended to concentrate on), and a bit later I sat down to do it also with you. So far I had already heard about "getting charity wrong" or "not understanding charity correctly", and Edgardo and I have continued our after–lunch conversations longer than expected discussing about cultural plurality, multiculturality, transculturality and so on, but never had I start to think of many other terms –and the actions, abilities, capacities, etc related to them– that are not pertinent to talk about how things should be, and which, however, define perfectly well the long list of those that remain as they are and are not as they should.

The power to name is extraordinary, but I am not trying to suggest that we have to be more careful with what we say than what we do, maybe the same. However, we have to pay attention to the purpose of our words. It matters a lot, perhaps too much. To be conscious of their strength may help us to use words better, to know exactly what we are saying and why we are saying it. Nevertheless, there is more to words than their intention: they put our thoughts behind bars though we do not consider them as prisoners.

Allow me to finish with a few more words from Ramón, in the already mentioned Benedetti's work:

It has stopped raining. However, it is not colder. The Old man corners him as many times as he wants. For doing so he makes use and abuses of his elegant arrogance. Last night he wanted to force him to support his political attitude. Afterwards, little by little, with smiles, with ironies, with jokes, with plays on words, even with some arguments, he discouraged him as time passed, leaving him speechless and feeling resentful. Suddenly I became very fond of him, not the sort of mild fondness that I usually had for him because he was my son, but an active, renewed and militant fondness. The Old man is not sure, but he demonstrates a lot of security. Gustavo is sure, but he does not know how to explain his own security. The Old man is a veteran, a champion of controversy, a master of his tricks. In this sense, poor Gustavo is still on milk. Nevertheless, how much I wanted to bet on him. In the centre of his lack of experience there is a conviction.

Image.