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Talking Tolerance by Coen Welsh

Inhumanity is made visible in a lack of tolerance, which has the power to destroy the peace of society. What tolerance is and why we need it, is what Namibian Industrial Psychologist, Coen Welsh, has outlined for us in his short guide to Tolerance.

What Tolerance Is by Coen Welsh

What is tolerance? According to Michael Austin on PsychologyToday.com, there seems to be the idea that tolerance means that all views are equal and that you are egotistical if you think that you have the ‘right’ view. This is specifically relevant to the areas of politics and religion. Austin says that we should define true tolerance as the ability to deeply disagree with someone else’s point of view and yet still respect their right as a person to hold that view.

Let’s make this practical. There are people who believe the earth is flat. They believe they have evidence for this and they have some compelling arguments to prove that the earth is flat. Most people now believe that the earth is a sphere and have seen NASA pictures from space showing that the earth is a globe. To be truly tolerant we should be able to engage someone with a vastly differing worldview to our own in a conversation and be able to share and attempt to persuade the other party of our point of view. While doing this a truly tolerant person will be able to have this discussion with the other person and when the conversation ends still be able to be friends even though their opinions differ.

The flip-side of tolerance is that if we do not tolerate each other it can lead to discrimination. Discrimination comes from ignorance. If I am ignorant of your views it will lead to fear. When I fear something, I discriminate against it. Discrimination leads to stereotyping and stereotyping causes us to believe that “they/it are all the same” and we refuse to engage with that person or that worldview.

So how do we overcome this? The opposite of ignorance is knowledge. Step one would be to get knowledge about the other person or the other point of view. Knowledge leads to understanding. Understanding leads to safety and safety leads to trust and trust leads to treating others with fairness.

All of this does not mean we should accept all views as being equal. We should, however, see all human beings are equal and as equal human beings, we have right to have our own opinion and the right to defend and/or change that opinion.

In the words of another very famous psychologist, Victor Frankl: “When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”


About Coen Welsh

Coen is a qualified Industrial Psychologist with a master’s thesis focusing on the Antecedents and underlying Psychological Conditions predicting Employee Engagement. Coen is a founding trustee of Capacity Trust where he currently consults in the people and human resources space for a variety of organisations in Namibia ranging from private sector clients to government and SOE’s.

Find out more about Capacity Trust by clicking here
You can find more of Coen’s writing on his blog by clicking here