Is tolerance to be passive?

A photo by Daniel Cheung.

There are some words that I’ve always found hard to use, hard to really understand, for example love, tolerance, forgiveness, peace.

I want to develop and become a better, kinder person and I suspect that to act out of love, tolerance and forgiveness is important. But the words are so BIG to me! Do you understand what I mean?

How can I love people I don’t know? How is that possible? How can I be tolerant towards people that have the most horrible opinions and do terrible things?

Actually it is only the last few years that I have understood that it is the INTERPRETATION of the words that make the difference. If I think of love like the feeling I have for my daughter and expect to feel that towards everybody in the world, I will never succeed. And if I try to accept and understand the thoughts of someone doing horrible things I will make myself a victim and become a passive doll.

So I have to see the words from another angel.

“Tolerance is not about agreement or being vague about differences and disagreements. Tolerance is maintaining metta (loving kindness) towards those who hold views which are different from ours and which are even repugnant to us. Metta is the basic Buddhist attitude and tolerance is the application of that basic attitude to the area of difference and disagreement with others.”
‘Buddhist thoughts for a violent world’ by Ratnaghosha (2003)

When I read this quote some years ago, that was something new to me. Until then I couldn’t understand how one could be tolerant with all those crazy people in the world having such violent, egoistic, narrow views. To me that was to be passive! How could I just listen and smile if someone told me about his or her opinion and I thought that they were completely wrong? To just listen and smile would be being a coward, not fighting for a better world! Or at least feeling that I was dishonest to myself, by not telling the person about my opinion.

Then I was taught about the difference between being passive and being tolerant. As the quote above says, the point is not NOT to say my opinion, it is to do it in a kind way. To listen to the other person, to try to understand what he means and maybe even why he has this opinion. Then I can tell him my view, I can write articles, I can demonstrate, I can do anything I want to show my opinion, but I should do it in a kind way. I should not hurt or even kill him, I should not shout, humiliate or say mean things. I should respect him. I should respect the other person as an equal part of humanity.

I can see now how I often have felt as if my opinion, or rather I myself, have been threatened by somebody else’s opinion. I felt that I sort of had to WIN, or I would have LOST. To be good at argumentation would be to be better at winning. That might be completely wrong then. I should not feel threatened next time. I shall try my best to accept that this other person thinks like this, and that I can tell him or her what I think if I feel that it would be good.

I shall express myself in a kind way, no matter what others say or think!

Am I confusing a fact with a thought?


“It sure has been a very boring winter”, I said to my husband. And then I went quiet and started to think about what I’ve just said.

I remembered that the Buddhist monk Vajracaksu, had been teaching me not to confuse a fact with a thought, to make sure that I don’t jump to conclusions too fast.

So, had the winter been boring? The fact was that it had been much colder and much less sunnier that the two last winters. But “boring” was of course my conclusion. Does it matter? Well, since I can’t do much about the weather that thought makes me a victim. I just have to endure this boring weather and get depressed about it and feel as if my energy level has reached bottom line. If I, on the other hand, can make myself see that “boring” is a thought that I choose myself, I can easily change the thought.
Perhaps “It sure has been a good winter for reading and having cozy coffee mornings with friends” would make me feel less depressed?

Not to confuse a fact with a thought, I find especially difficult with short text messages. I know that’s why the smileys have been invented, but still it happens quite often that I find someone rude or harsh when they send me a message. I easily attach an imagined attitude to the message. But now I have difficulties sending a text message without a smiley, because it looks to serious!

Back to the confusion again: Honestly, isn’t it a very important lesson – to notice if I am confusing a fact with a thought?

I saw an old class mate putting strange photos on Facebook. So when I met some other class mates someone said something about it, and we all were shaking our heads and judging her as a bit crazy. Then one of them said that he had heard that her husband had left her, and another one then said that her sister had died. Hey, wait! With these new facts, I was suddenly not so sure that the photos were crazy. Here was perhaps a terribly sad and confused person, who might be a bit lost at the moment. Within a few minutes I started to feel very sorry for her and seeing her photos as a statement of her sadness. I had clearly confused the facts (the photos) with a thought (“She is crazy”).

How bad isn’t that for world peace?!

Today I’ll try hard to focus on my thoughts about people and situations and notice how often the facts might not be completely supporting my thoughts. Do you feel that you mix them up as well?