Times of acute discord can provide unique opportunities for examining the benefits of core values like tolerance. Tolerance education can be highly beneficial for maintaining a harmonious and productive atmosphere within schools and workplaces.
To teach tolerance in any setting, start by defining the term, and establishing the significance of tolerance as a virtue and as a practical functional capability for individuals and groups.
First, the definition:
tolerance: a willingness to accept behavior and beliefs that are different from your own, even if you disagree with or disapprove of them
Note that tolerance implies some form of opposition or conflict. If we agree with a particular person, or are apathetic to an idea, there is nothing to "tolerate." Tolerance requires restraint, and putting up with our own discomfort. As we broaden our understanding of tolerance, we can see and explore links to other concepts, such as fairness, justice, compassion, and love.
Tolerance has been promoted as a civic virtue since the 17th century, when John Locke identified it as a key component of equal rights within a society. It has become a core American value, codified within our Constitution and our system of laws. We view and admire the personification of tolerance in figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.
Tolerance is also a shared value internationally. UNESCO provides perhaps the most useful definition of tolerance, as guiding social principle, in its 1995 Declaration of Principles of Tolerance:
1.1 Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.
UNESCOs definition is so useful because it recognizes the potential pitfalls of tolerance, alongside the benefits. It recognizes that there are limits to what should be tolerated. When we teach tolerance, we can work with learners to explore and define these limits.
It is important to note that tolerance is not merely an idealistic moral principle. It is also a practical, effective capability within groups and societies to get optimal results. In short, tolerance is a best practice for success in education and in business.
From a practical perspective, tolerance helps us live and work together, enhancing harmonious interaction and productive relationships. For schools, tolerance education creates more open learning environments, especially for disadvantaged learners. Moreover, it teaches all students how to function most effectively in a diverse world.
For companies, workplace training can lead to improved communication and a more cooperative employee group, with resulting benefits to productivity. Tolerance training also reduces employee conflict, and the potential liability associated with this conflict.
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