Tolerance – a good start, but not sufficient Stellenbosch Business School Skip to main content
In 1996, the United Nations invited their member states to annually observe an International Day for Tolerance on 16 November

Op-ed by Prof Mias de Klerk

In 1996, the United Nations invited their member states to annually observe an International Day for Tolerance on 16 November, aimed at the promotion of a spirit of tolerance and non-violence globally.

Notwithstanding the call for tolerance, we see increasing high levels of intolerance in South Africa and also globally. Think about ubiquitous intolerance against certain sexual orientations, or Trump’s intolerance for other countries and ethnic cultures (e.g., describing all Mexicans as rapists and druggists). There is the omnipresent intolerance between different races as recently demonstrated by EFF members’ attempts to stop the unification of South Africans over racial boundaries after the Springboks’ world cup victory, with racial slurs and judgements. Intolerance amongst different religious faiths has led to many bloody wars over centuries – and it is still continuing to happen today. The list of humanity’s intolerances is endless and growing. Obviously, it is fit to observe a Day for Tolerance. But tolerance can only be the first step, it is not nearly enough.

Unless we move beyond tolerance to acceptance, it is unlikely that the world will change for the better.

We want to inspire for innovation and growth. For aspiring entrepreneurs and growing companies it is essential to uncover new ideas and create meaningful connections to drive sustainable business growth” added Crijns.”

Apart from meetings with Cape-based entrepreneurs, and company visits, some of the USB lectures include Building resilient states in a transforming world: Economics in emerging countries – RSA as a case study, by Prof Andre Roux, head of Futures Studies programmes,  Building sustainable societies in a complex world – dimensions of African futures, by Dr Morné Mostert, director of the Institute for Futures Research (IFR), and Digital innovation in Africa, by Martin Butler, head of MBA programmes.

“It is mainly the commitment of all the participants, organisers, hosts and speakers that makes this edition a memorable and successful venture,” said Crijns. “I thank all the people and organisations that will make this venture a success. The Belgian Embassy, headed by Ambassador Vanderhasselt, was very cooperative in organising opportunities for networking.

“In particular I thank the University of Stellenbosch Business School, represented by Prof Piet Naudé and the USB International Affairs team Nyambura Mwagiru, Sheena Maneveld, and Samantha Walbrugh-Parsadh, who are in fact the driving forces in organising this tour. Their aim is to make our professional, academic or personal endeavours memorable and actionable.

If one investigates the definition and etymological roots of tolerance, it focuses on bearing with or enduring things that are different than one’s own, without being effected and without interference. This approach to those who are different does not remove the sting that tolerance inherently leaves behind within people. One can bear with those who one is tolerant with, endure them and do not interfere, but can still judge them, stereotype them and be smudged with bigotry.

We often grudgingly tolerate differences in people, ideas or practices and do not interfere because of the inability to do so.

Gay people are only tolerated because the constitution recognises the right of sexual orientation. In the meantime, a gay person is stigmatised, stereotyped and are not accepted as just another equal human being

Gay people are only tolerated because the constitution recognises the right of sexual orientation. In the meantime, a gay person is stigmatised, stereotyped and are not accepted as just another equal human being with similar needs, desires and hopes than any other, being just another person with good and bad in them just like anyone else. One can be tolerant with people from another ethnic group or speaking another language, but still stereotype them, sneer at them, or avoid them as far as possible. Although most of the big religions preach acceptance, their followers typically tolerate other religions on surface level. The recent mass murders in New Zeeland and the USA were not ascribed to individuals who went berserk, but to the Muslim faith.

And how many people accept those who are agnostic or chose not to ascribe to any religion as equal spiritual beings?

Acceptance is required to move people beyond tolerance. Acceptance is about a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own. It is about freedom from bigotry, understanding and appreciating differences without criticism or judgement, even if one does not understand or agree with it. Please note that acceptance is not without boundaries; acceptance excludes malignant ideas, opinions and practices. But be careful not to judge this too quickly and only from your own point of view as few of us can see beyond our own predispositions.

Many individuals are scared to move to acceptance in the delusion that it will remove differences or one’s right to be different. However, acceptance is not assimilation or becoming the same. Rather, it is about appreciating, and dare one say celebrating, different ideas, opinions and practices with an interest to learn and understand. Is it not the celebration of differences that lies at the root of discerned individuals’ desire to travel and the joy of seeing different places and experiencing cultures that are different to one’s own?

Tolerance is an essential first step towards creating a more accommodating and non-violent world, but it is insufficient and passive.

We move beyond tolerance to acceptance to change the world for the better, starting with every one of us. In the humble words of Mahatma Gandhi: “I will be the change that I want to see in the world.”


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