What are some examples of tolerance

Respect - where does tolerance end?

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About the author

Christine Kammerer, political scientist M.A., alternative practitioner (psychotherapy), freelance journalist and trainer. Professional background: Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, Federal Agency for Political Education, German Child Protection Association.

by Christine Kammerer

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We live in a very free society. The possibilities that everyone can choose from are immense. He can develop his own way of life, regardless of whether it is a matter of choosing a career, freedom of religion, freedom of expression or other personal preferences. So much freedom leads to strong differentiation and great diversity. People in a free society can only live together in peace if there is at the same time a high degree of tolerance towards other forms of life and everyone respects the other's individual characteristics. On the other hand, this tolerance must also have its limits in order not to get randomly arbitrary: It cannot mean that we become blind to structures that promote intolerance.

What tolerance means and what doesn't ...

In its declaration from 1995, the UN organization for education, science and culture committed itself to promoting tolerance and non-violence and explains very precisely what it means by this. According to the definition of UNESCO, tolerance means above all “respect, acceptance and recognition of the cultures of our world, our forms of expression and ways of shaping our human existence in all their richness and diversity. (...) Tolerance is harmony across differences. It is not only a moral obligation, but also a political and legal necessity. "

It is only through tolerance that peace becomes possible, because tolerance (...) helps to overcome the cult of war through a culture of peace. ”The declaration also stipulates what tolerance is not, namely“ giving in, condescension or forbearance. ” This passage makes it clear that the UNESCO definition describes a claim and a noble ideal rather than a reality. Tolerance, according to the wording of the declaration, is above all an “active attitude”. But that contradicts the generally accepted definition of the term.

Respect and tolerance - a demarcation of the terms

We often use the terms “tolerance” and “respect” interchangeably, for example when it comes to the rights of minorities. But is the term “tolerance” really appropriate here or would it not be more correct to speak of “respect”? The meaning of what is expressed in terms of content is actually quite different.

The word “tolerance” comes from the Latin term “tolerare” and that means “to endure” or “to endure”. Tolerance shows the willingness to tolerate other opinions, attitudes and ways of life, even though they do not correspond to our own. Respect goes far beyond that: Respect is a form of appreciation. It is not imperative that you share the other's attitude. You can also show respect, for example towards yourself
  • Authorities (parents, teachers, police, etc.),
  • the reputation of a person based on position or prestige,
  • Religions, religious symbols or dignitaries,
  • the feelings and needs of others,
  • Accomplishments or efforts of others.
Respect goes beyond mere acceptance. Acceptance also expresses a positive value judgment, but is more neutral and less strong than the positive word “respect”. We accept other people and their idiosyncrasies, we even approve of their behavior. Acceptance and respect are voluntary and have an active component. In contrast to tolerance, because toleration is passive. The attitude behind it can also be reluctant and based on rejection.

Between tolerance and indifference

Tolerance is nothing less than the basis of living together in a society. Even if people have completely different and even very contradicting views on some points, we have agreed on a formula of “live and let live”. Otherwise we would wear each other out in destructive conflicts. We may not agree with many things, but we submit and endure the situation without fighting against it.

It is different, however, in situations where our commitment is definitely required - for example when we experience violence against children or aggression against other people. The mainstream generation is said to be tolerant to the point of overadaptation. In view of this, one has to rightly ask oneself: How much indifference is there? Do we let the others be different just so that we don't have to deal with their differences? Are we overwhelmed with the many facets of human life that we encounter every day?

Limits of tolerance

The limits of tolerance in a society are always determined by the norms on which the majority have agreed. If these norms are in danger, tolerance for the attitudes and behavior of those who endanger them also reaches its limits. So tolerance has to stop where, among other things
  • Freedoms are restricted or the rights of others are violated
  • other harm is done,
  • Intolerance and violence begin.
We are probably largely in agreement within German society that racism, xenophobia and nationalism cannot be tolerated.

Education for tolerance

“Education is the most effective remedy for intolerance. (...) Education for tolerance "is therefore, according to UNESCO," one of the most urgent educational goals. "Education must convey a perspective that arouses curiosity about the inner workings of" foreign "or" different "people. Only knowledge can help to familiarize the strange and different. You can learn to understand it by integrating it - in yourself and in society. But in order to understand its motivations and behaviors, one has to approach it and get to know it. Tolerance is based on reason and should always be based on reciprocity: Those who demand respect and tolerance must also practice tolerance and be able to respect others.


UNESCO: Declarations of Principles of Tolerance, 1995

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