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The Power of Tolerance

10th November 2022

“The highest result of education is tolerance.
(Helen Keller)


HOM: Listening with understanding and empathy.

One of the greatest gifts of my university education was to end my three years of study, and recognise how much I did not know. Of course I had gained a degree and new knowledge and understanding on a range of subjects but like a traveller who reaches the top of a mountain and sees just how far they have yet to go, so it is with learning. I was just at the beginning of the journey and still had so much to learn! And it is that realisation that I think Helen Keller is touching on when she says that ‘the highest result of education is tolerance’. For simply put, the more education you receive, the more you may realize how much you do not know and that becomes quite humbling. A good education opens us up to an awareness of the huge diversity of people, cultures, religious and political ideas and beliefs and helps us recognise that although we may learn and understand a little, that knowledge and understanding will only ever be partial. We also will discover that while we may agree with some of what we learn there will also be much with which we disagree. And so we have to develop a tolerance for the sake of a more peaceful world.

Tolerance however, although linked to the idea of respect, is not the same.  “Respect” and “tolerance” are complementary notions, one tolerating ideas, but not necessarily respecting them, the other respecting the person as an equal being, whatever their religion, culture, race, gender or sexuality, but not necessarily their beliefs or acts. Individuals command respect by virtue of their humanity but we may disagree with their values, beliefs or actions. In fact we may be called upon to tolerate some views with which we strongly disagree, but we can and may need to challenge them. Disagreement is not outlawed in a tolerant society, and it is not a sign of hatred of others when we disagree (although it can tip in that direction if we are not careful). And when we become intolerant and condemning then conflict will surely follow and that is why tolerance is so central for a peaceful society.

With this in mind, on 16th November 1995 the UN International Day for Tolerance was established.  It was established in response to the racial and religious wars in Bosnia and Rwanda. It was designed to educate people about the need for tolerance in society and to help them understand the potentially devastating results if a society fosters and feeds off bigotry and intolerance.

Conflict seems to be a constant in human society, so learning how to move beyond it towards peace is one of the most important things we can teach our children. And one of the first steps towards resolving conflict is embedding tolerance into the everyday. We aim to do this throughout Wychwood school in the way it is organised and managed and also across the taught curriculum. And as a teacher of religious studies I am particularly conscious of the need to create a safe space in which a diversity of views can be expressed, tolerated and disagreed with, and where individuals are respected. Hopefully in a small way these things can help contribute towards a more tolerant society overall.


Christine Crossley