Pseudo-tolerance and Real Tolerance
On the Need for Discernment Along the Way
The Theosophical Movement
Tolerance is a widely used but generally misunderstood word, believed by most people to mean simply not hurting the feelings of others, maintaining the peace at all costs, the policy of “live and let live”, etc. Some think a person intolerant when he points out to others holding different views any errors of statement or fact. Quite often it is not what is said, but the tone and feeling behind what is said, that arouses antagonism. If we look at the dictionary meaning of tolerance, we find it described as “liberality towards the opinions of others”. This, however, does not call for what Robert Crosbie terms “indiscriminate acceptance of everything and everyone”.
We have to distinguish between two types of tolerance. The first is the false and passive tolerance involving the emotions, described by Robert Crosbie as the attitude of “namby-pambysm” [which] is but a pseudo-tolerance. Carried to its legitimate conclusion, this false idea of “brotherhood” would signify that sin, sorrow, suffering, error, all religions, and all philosophies are all right; that everyone is doing the best he can, and the best he knows how to do, and cannot do any different, and that all are steps of learning. The other type of tolerance is the active tolerance based on knowledge and does not call for a surrender of our convictions or an indiscriminate acceptance of everything. It means simply that no one is to be condemned because of his opinions. “This tolerance does not mean ‘fraternizing’ with everything and everyone that demands it”, as Robert Crosbie points out.
H.P.B. in her Key to Theosophy describes what this real tolerance is, saying that we should “speak the truth at all costs”, if a wrong act is going to injure or endanger others; but if it only hurts the one who commits it, then it is best to remain silent and leave the erring person to his Karma. She put this principle into action when she “spoke the truth at all costs” in 1888, 13 years after the founding of the Theosophical Society, by calling it a “dead failure” and a “sham” so far as devotion to its objects and the attainment of brotherhood were concerned. Would we term this “unbrotherly” or “intolerant”? There are times when facts have to be pointed out, however unpleasant they may be. H.P.B. was not unbrotherly in the moral or spiritual sense because she recognized the fact and declared it. If we view this from the emotional standpoint it would be called intolerant, but that which is true cannot be either uncharitable or intolerant.
H.P.B. further expands this idea and offers us lines of action by pointing out that there is a difference between condemning in words, which is uncharitable, and withdrawing in silent pity from the erring person, thus punishing him, but all the same giving him a chance to repent of his ways. It does not mean refusal of assistance when asked for.
There is a wide difference between speaking the truth with the right feeling, and condemnation. The truth may be spoken when we have perceived the principle involved, based on knowledge, as the correct basis of action, but this does not mean that we can sit in judgment on another. Rather, after having pointed out the truth, having judged the act and not the actor, we must leave the person to see the error of his ways. If, however, he refuses, then we have no choice but to “withdraw in silent pity”, leaving him to his Karma.
Mr. Judge enlarges upon the idea of tolerance by showing that it involves both mind and heart. He explains the concept of “withdrawing” by showing that while we must practise detachment so far as our thoughts are concerned - “forgive, forgive and largely forget” - yet it does not mean that we can cast out of our heart those we have withdrawn from; it implies rather that head and heart must work together, the head becoming compassionate and not condemning, and the heart wise and not emotional. Mr. Judge aptly points out that “men are not made into steel by comfort”.
We must, therefore, re-evaluate our ideas on tolerance. We have for too long accepted false ideas without seriously questioning what is involved. The practice of real tolerance goes to the root of our conduct and our relationship with others. To understand the difference between real tolerance and pseudo-tolerance is to have grasped the distinction between the impersonal and the personal.
There is also a wider aspect to this question that we need to look into. In the world today, especially in the field of modern medicine, many practices are followed, such as blood transfusion, the injection of foreign material into the body, family planning, etc., as also alcohol drinking and addiction to one thing or another, against all of which Theosophy takes a definite stand, for definite reasons. Are we afraid of being considered intolerant if we speak the truth in these matters? Robert Crosbie had the following to say on this very important subject:
“It is the duty of esoteric students to unmask error and hypocrisy; to face lie with truth; not as personal criticisms but as facts against mis-statements....Theosophy is in the world for that purpose. We are not to be self-assertive nor flabby; knowing the truth, we speak it and care only for it and that it be as widely known as possible.”
H.P.B. waged a constant war against orthodoxy in religion, against materialism and bigotry in modern science, against injurious medical practices, etc. Did she stop pointing to the truth when others did not agree with her, when they ridiculed and maligned her and her Theosophical ideas? No. Had hers been an emotional and personal reaction, a pseudo-tolerant one, would she have spoken as fearlessly and forcefully as she did? Mr. Judge, too, did not stop working when troubles arose around him, but ever pointed to the correct Theosophical principles of action and went on with the work. Robert Crosbie did the same. We also must follow their example, bearing in mind that Truth agrees only with Truth. So if we firmly believe, and are convinced by fact and reason, that we are in possession of Truth, it would be a false tolerance which would withhold it in the face of error. Truth exists in the world for the purpose of destroying error. Error is dogmatic and does not court close investigation. Truth courts all and every possible investigation, and, calm in its certitude, examines everything upon its merits ... tests it by the standard of Truth.
Reproduced from the monthly magazine “The Theosophical Movement”, Mumbai, India, April 2003.
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Pseudo-tolerance and Real Tolerance