Pluralism – Tolerance – Life or: Why It is Difficult at Times to Accept the Other

For quite some time now, research about peace and how to keep it has been going on, at least since WW II, one of the most dreadful catastrophes mankind has seen.

Among the most important aspects are these two, which actually are two sides of a coin:
pluralism and tolerance.
They seem easy in theory, but everyday practice shows they are not. Why?

Because it is human to be afraid or at least intimidated by what is different from ourselves. To judge – and more importantly – feel judged by the ‘other’. The concept, idea, shape or, simply, behaviour that is different from what we are used to.

In ancient times so research seems to confirm, this point of view was a lifesaver: trust only what is the same, difference can be dangerous. Apparently animals still act that way: any smell, colour and shape different from their own seems a danger.

Yet, there are details that can make all the difference: animals that are smaller, insignificant, or have a smell that is considered neutral, may be ignored altogether.

This points to something that makes the whole idea even more poignant:
The other is only made an issue of, if it is not just different – but when it appears to be dangerous!

Unfortunately, this is true for human behaviour too:
Most of the times human beings start fighting, on smaller or larger scales, they do so because they feel endangered.

Xenophobia is the ancient Greek term for the behaviour that is at the root of these situations: the fear of the stranger, the other, the dangerous one.

Peaceful coexistence, if aimed at, needs these few ideas:

  • Remember that with self-esteem and the realization of being human and thus imperfect comes more security by feeling adequate.
  • Start getting to know yourself better to help self-esteem along.
  • Stop thinking that feeling insecure or inadequate is something bad – or very singular. It’s human to feel afraid sometimes, to feel inadequate or insecure. Deal with it.
  • Do not try to feel more secure by making others smaller, in deed, or in words.
  • Most importantly: try to cross the boundaries, get to know the ‘other’ on safe grounds – and start relishing what plurality has to give.

This is the high road to peace – and more respect, for yourself and for others.

One of Those Questions – Love in Triples?

It seems that in long-term relationships for all kinds of reasons people can forget about passion and how it might work…
Sometimes it’s not so much the ‘forgetfulness’, but reasons outside of their strictly personal ideas have made them come together, especially: marry.

For thousands of years mankind has been wondering and does every day, if passion must not fade, naturally, after some time.
I am not sure if I am the right person to answer this definitively, but in my opinion: ‘no’.
I am a romantic and I believe that with patience and knowledge and the right setting more things are possible, than “are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio”, as Shakespeare has Hamlet say in the famous play.

A lot of people seem to feel that the solution lies in the triple: have the long-term partner to share life with – and the second ‘love’ to share passion with. Little vignettes may swim to imagination’s surface, painting the life that way in rosy, passionate and separate colours…
Interestingly, almost no one takes the time to think this through… Man (and woman) is not a machine, a function, but always a unique being, a whole of mind, soul and body.

So, shortly put: triples do not work in love.

Be that as it may, this little clip from one of my favourite movies gives a nice answer to that question, that is not definitive, on the surface – but makes you wonder in a good way…

Stephen Fry: “Playing Grafcefully With Ideas” – Oscar Wilde, Albert Einstein or Modern Heroes

I like to share this address here, Stephen Fry’s address to Oxford students on what to value very highly in life, especially as student or – I like to add, human being:
freedom of thought

Fry’s speeches and subtle humour are famous already, as actor as well as writer he can be said to practice the true art of understatement.

I will just put this here, it’s great fun and well-versed as well as read. Take a little time off your household chores, perhaps, get a breather from a working life of pressing tasks – and enjoy!

The Art of Making Mistakes and yet Thrive: Try Again!

There’s no shame in failure, only in not trying again. (Henry Ford)

Many quotes similar to this have been attributed to Henry Ford. The image of the proverbial entrepreneur is associated with him.

Regardless of this being really his own words – I have found them to be quite true in the course of my life.

In a number of cultures, the strict rules we grow up with as children can create the impression that making mistakes can lead to serious consequences. During education the consequences of a mistake or an error are often painted in very dark and sinister colours. This method often is used to make children and adolescents better understand that consequences should be taken into account before acting.

The concept of Yin and Yang is often used to describe the fact that nothing and no human being is just one thing – or another.
Black – or white. But both, more often than not.
In some ways this is true.
The Chinese concept itself is a little more complex.

In order to find out what concept helps understanding life and human beings as well as situations wholly and thus truthfully, and so make our ideas reliable, the Yin-Yang-concept is not sufficient.

To make it clearer and yet easy to understand, I like to use the image of the kaleidoscope: most situations, people and even mistakes are not one- or two-sided, but rather multi-faceted, that is:
colourful!
Therefore, to be afraid of a mistake can also be the result of not looking at the whole picture. Of all the pros and cons a situation, a person or especially a mistake can have.

Basically, as the quote above also shows, not trying again is the real shame. And not seeing what is true, but jumping to conclusions.
I’ve posted about this in another context before.

If we slip on a banana peel, fall and get hurt, we pick ourselves up. We attend to the scratches – and we may notice in the event that the slip has prevented us from running across the street, without watching out for the van that might have killed us.

That is a simple example of what I mean:
Get up, try again – and see if there aren’t upsides after all!

I Cannot Be Bothered with Museums – or: Being Is so Light – or: Why Education?

I am part of a family that for hundreds of years has been busy to educate and learn and further culture, arts and knowledge, basically across half of Europe.
When I was still a girl, I often felt overwhelmed and intimidated by all the possible knowledge domains that are there these days, all the facts, figures and rules of art one would learn, languages and their often hidden meaning. Mathematics, physics, chemistry, in short: all the subjects of the higher holistic academic education, based on humanist principles, in turn based on Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Humboldtian education ideal of the nineteenth century.

I often asked myself: will I ever be able to learn and understand all these facts? Apart from the possible interpretations and philosophical consequential thoughts one might develop. My parents used to discuss philosophical matters, such as epistemology, the limitations of knowledge, as opposed to wisdom, terminology questions, or language, society and its roots, politics, arts, sciences, literature…

I’ve learned in the meantime that for all the high ideals and aspirations, growing up does for us what we need: knowledge becomes ‘manageable’, categories form in the mind and thus build a solid structure, slowly but surely, if we continue.

I also learned early in life about Socrates and his (alleged) dictum:
“I know that I know nothing.” Although proper research does not find this to be part of the Plato texts, it is widely acknowledged as a short gesture of respect towards previous philosophers and scientists, in the sense that a wealth of knowledge exists and one human being would not be enough to imbibe it all.

Some people have answered the question ‘why study’ in a more generic way:
‘Being educated is a worthy and dignified asset and a proper value of distinction.’
Some find:
‘It can be crucial for a life in wealth or even riches’ – which is the, alas, modern, utilitarian variety of the reason for education.

But somehow these answers weren’t enough for me. They seemed to reduce knowledge and wisdom to something ‘countable’.
For myself I have found a basis for education that is rooted in a belief and experience, especially those blessed with wealthy families and upbringing, may not easily share:

‘Education can make the fundamental difference between the ‘unbearable lightness of being’ – and the ‘unbearable heaviness of being’.’

Why? How?

Lightness of being may be felt by those, who live in comfortable circumstances, who do not know, what real want or need of the fundamental necessities in life feels like. And who may even be tempted to idle away their lives in constant partying and drinking and perhaps even drug abuse, or worse, in order to quench any emotion or thought of emptiness or lack of focus this way. (This kind of behaviour may be a phase only, when people think they have to prove their membership of the ‘wealthy elements’ of society, prove to be bold and exciting…)

Heaviness of being can be felt by those, who have seen – or see – this want, this need. Who have to reduce their living circumstances for years or even decades to the bare living and breathing and clothing and food.

For some time I was part of the second aspect of people. One day, after years and years, one might say, I had the chance to ‘return’ to the museums of my childhood, to the paintings, the knowledge of scientists and meaning.

I entered that hall of paintings, in my case the Flemish and Netherlands artists of the 14th to 16th century, mainly.
And suddenly I was moved almost to tears, feeling:
“Thank God, this is all here, still, and will be, whatever else may happen.”

It was like a revelation at that moment, of art lifting me up above the worries and fears of everyday life. I remembered a number of things I had learned during childhood about the rules for why these paintings were just this way. That made the experience even more insightful and exciting.

So, my answer(s) to the question above, why education, are these:
It can lift you up.
It broadens the horizon of understanding, that is understanding humans, ways of life, religions and politics.
It can make you feel as if a light, like a beacon, shines on our lives, because all those wonderful artists have created art to make life more colourful, multi-faceted and exciting.

So, be undaunted, now or later, and conquer the knowledge, the wisdom and the arts – to light up your life with the knowledge and arts – your way.

Tolerance – or: Accept the Other by Looking Beyond the Image

When we work or live together, everyday life can be made difficult by disagreements, arguments or even serious quarrels, with misunderstandings at the bottom of them, very often.
What can help to solve this all-to-common occurrence? How can we get past petty arguments and self-righteousness to allow for a broader view and deeper understanding?

Listen to Your Peers

This sounds like easy advice but it isn’t. In everyday life, we are busy and these days internet and digital devices are everywhere. With work, family and friends demanding our full attention most of any day, it can get difficult to really listen; pay attention to what is being said, and what a person may even not say, but what is still there.

Identify Guilt and Get It Over With

Why should we identify it – or even assume it’s there?
In most countries and cultures around the globe the expected conduct, behaviour and rules of the community are strict, especially when listened to closely. Some more than others. But this strictness, these rules, between people, between parents and children, between lovers, between husband and wife, between friends – lead to easy and repeatedly felt emotions of guilt in the sense: “I did not follow the rule. I behaved or acted inadequately. Or seem to have. That is bad.”
After such, often not completely conscious thoughts, the next step in such chains of thought is:
“I have to prove myself. I have to contradict the other person, to make clear that I am good.”
With this the defensiveness sets in, anger enters the conversation, and mutual accusations of what the other person got wrong, will follow.

How can that be got over?

It cannot completely, because we are human beings and we live in this world and have been raised to certain standards and beliefs.
It can be relieved, though.
Because if we are ready to see the whole picture, we may teach ourselves and thus our surroundings, forgiveness.
Based on the realization, that we all at times have differing needs, even in the same family, not to say across cultures. That this difference of need and emotion can lead to excitement and even anger – and we are still good at heart!
Because, just as much as we are trying to do our best and occasionally fail – so do the others.

Look Beyond the Image

What image? And why look beyond one?
Culture, education, upbringing and history of our respective countries shape our idea of the world, of what is acceptable behaviour, what is not.
Women and men are usually supposed and expected to act or behave or talk in a certain manner. If that manner is markedly different from our expectations, we start wondering, why and how – and very often jump to conclusions based on what we learned so far.
That is the image: what we have learned, what we expect, and what these presuppositions actually let us see – or miss.

So, in this sense, looking beyond the image means: realize what the values are that you learned, which of them you actually live by – and what could be different, in the other person.

Accept the ‘Other’ as such – different, not better, not worse, just different, in most cases. And, sometimes the most difficult task of all: accept yourself!

Tolerance

With this comes tolerance:
A wonderful word, to my mind, it encompasses the concept of allowing for variety – of being open-minded, and accepting that not everyone is the same as we are, at least in detail, and that this fact is – and thus the other person is – welcome.

The Acorn, the Oak-tree and (Young) Ladies’ Self-confidence

This short video is another example of the TEDx series of talks that I like to share. And it could be for you, if

  • you are a young lady between 17-24 and want to learn or be reminded of what can be important to remember for a life.
  • you are a lady of more advanced years and had temporarily forgotten all about it…
  • you are a husband, father, son, brother, uncle, cousin, granddad…or… to find out about what it makes sense to teach young ladies – and why.

The ideas expressed are generalizations to some extent, as is customary for a short talk. For individual human beings and situations we always should look more closely to be as just as we possibly can.
But these ideas provide excellent pointers!
Emotional well-being and self-confidence are essential ingredients for a day – and a lifetime.
So, enjoy, everyone out there, who come by – and like this, too.

(Young) gentlemen, although in this day and age, in many regions of the world it seems too self-evident: you are oak-trees, too!
(Young) ladies, remember: you are an oak-tree already!

The Church, Crime, Creation and the Freedom of Choice

The recent years brought to light something that is as disturbing and dreadful as it is tragic for many people: the Catholic church unearths more and more details about abuse that has been going on behind its walls at least for decades, if not much longer.

So far it seems, bringing to light and the first apologies by bishops and the Pope himself have been first steps to acknowledge what in fact is criminal behaviour in a religious body.

It could make people, who attribute a value to that faith as well as that particular belief, despair, of the church as well as religion or even life.

One is tempted to ask, why do we need a church at all? Or a religion, for that matter?
I think, Erich Fromm was right in stating that religion is an expression of the yearning for transcendence in man (and woman). Transcendence of life and the sometimes hard to explain pain and suffering we see every day.

I have been a Christian in my time – and in some ways where people grow up and are raised, the respective history and prominent religious orientation of a society are important for mind and thinking – the frame of mind of a human being.

In this context modern Christians could be tempted to despair because the message in the later part of the bible, the gospel is focused on neighbourly love. On goodness and on God’s grace for all that have sinned on the day of resurrection.

This made Dostoevsky in one of his great novels, “The Brothers Karamazov” ask, how it could be that a gracious and judicious God could allow suffering, and especially the suffering of innocent children.

To me, one of the most wonderful answers to this almost eternal question has been given by John Steinbeck in “East of Eden”. The main character one day realizes that his faithful Chinese servant of many years is not only highly educated but a scholar. His servant tells him that after studying the bible in its common English translation and the Hebrew original, and especially the chapter Genesis, whose interpretation modern Western society is based on to a great extent, he found one sentence particularly striking and its interpretation crucial to what was going on in a great part of mankind.
‘Thou shalt go forward into the world and rule it and subdue it…’

Quoting Steinbeck’s text from memory at this point: he goes on to say that after years of study, he found the verb ‘shalt’ had been wrongly translated from the Hebrew and instead of ‘shalt’ it should be ‘mayest’.
From this would come the realization, that God hadn’t just entrusted his creation to mankind in a sense of commandeering action and correcting human errors himself where necessary.

Rather, the term ‘mayest’ encompasses the idea, that – human beings are also entrusted with choice – the choice between good and evil – every day.

To me this is the most important answer to any wrongs, crimes, pain, cruelty and suffering we may observe or go through: there is always some choice a human being can make, in any situation.

Many people due to this special context grow up in the firm and mistaken belief that someone else is responsible for their deeds, be they good or bad.
They feel and behave even as grown-ups not much differently from childhood: a little ashamed now and again they still think, breaking the rules cannot be too bad, if no one finds out – or no one complains.

This idea of choice is also the idea of personal freedom in this sense: ultimately any choice we make, is ours. Whatever way we decide.

It is responsibility, for creation, for our neighbour, for ourselves.

Freedom of Choice.

Freedom, the Eagle and the Relativity of Terms

Freedom – a big term, most often associated with flying, the eagle in the sky – the absolute lack of all fetters, shackles or limitations. Is it?

A dream. Even more than that: it is in these contexts – a human emotion.
There are these moments in life – when one is at peace with oneself and one’s surroundings – a fire outdoors in the night, surrounded by friends, music, good food and drink, perhaps.
The mountain top and a beautiful countryside on a day where vision seems endless.
A peaceful day at home, rain splattering against the windows, the rich fragrance of fresh home-made biscuits in the air.
These peaceful moments can convey a kind of freedom, and rich and full living. Perhaps at the core of the yearning: no ties and no responsibilities to be taken care of.
All’s well in the universe.

Yet, actually, there’s more to the idea of freedom. It also makes sense to differentiate. What I have put above is the personal freedom in a human’s life that can happen as an emotion on such occasions. Peace. Or exhilaration.
The exhilarating feeling that high above the world the sky is the limit…

To me, first and last, the definition and from there a repeated emotion of freedom is twofold: define what it is exactly, and why. Find out where it can be found, again.

So, first there’s personal freedom, a feeling perhaps, a strong emotion. There’s also the freedom in political and social life. It actually is the basis for the emotional situations I described above:

In a country, where it is not possible to try and reach your potential, to say what you think where and when you like, to dress how you like or go where you want – just the feeling of freedom, can be hard to find in personal life.

So next comes the question: what if all’s granted, but still, responsibilities are to be taken care of? The responsibility of taking care of a family can be difficult and weigh heavily on the mind.
Where is freedom then?

Freedom is in knowing your own limitations and your ‘escapes’ from routine, if there is one. And, in a community life, compromise. To go for what is good for many.

To find happiness in the small things, because you have figured out or seen what you don’t need to be happy, here and now. Your limitations.
The fragrance of a flower, the peaceful garden.
Dancing with friends, telling jokes and sharing thoughts – that’s what I found to be happiness in everyday life. Conveying the emotion of being carefree and lightweight.

Most importantly I realized that treasuring any moments given to us we feel this way, makes for a freedom that is independent of long trips, travelling the globe, the Bunjee jumping line – or flying into the skies: to know that it’s valuable, to you, your friends, your loved ones, now.

The Beauty and the Beast – or: The Idea of Loveliness and the Adored Woman Divine

In former times the idea existed of what an adorable woman should be like, I have to some extent already mentioned this before: she was to be slender, graceful, mild and smiling. Aloof from the ‘pit of worries and ugliness’ of this world, basically angelic.

The concept of adoration carries with it the idea of the pedestal, the aloofness, even distance and other-worldliness that is sung to in many songs and poems of the time when the idea of ‘courtly love’, the ‘Minnesang’ or ‘Minnedienst’ (German) was in full swing. Knights were sworn to such a service to a lady, they often chose one themselves that was a picture of virtue and aloofness. More rituals are associated with this service: the glove of the adored woman the knight was to carry around always, or a lock or a special piece of cloth, often embroidered by herself as a sign that all his deeds were dedicated to her, in war, in life and in death.

This romantic love created a mist, a blur of what we today still find in everyday infatuation. It calls an emotion ‘love’ that is based on a fairy story, an illusion about the perfection of a human being. Where the outer appearance is at least as important as the alleged virtues.

Actually, the image gets even more blurry and confusing by the fact that the ‘inner and outer beauty’ are exchanged for each other. The looks are taken for the person. Thus the emotion called ‘love’ based on this idea rather than person, is a picture – painted perhaps with great artistry – but still only containing part of the truth.

Truth: the concept of truth to me also is contained in these images, but it is more. It is what you find when you look closely, without prejudice. When you are not afraid of some time sordidness or disillusion and still are able to see the whole picture.
In Persian there is a saying: “the truth is bitter”. And that can be true too.
Ayurveda just equals truth with life.

I have found in the course of my life that truth, reality, as difficult to bear sometimes as it is, in cases of cruelty and torture in war or politics or crime – makes for ultimately a safer kind of life. And a more interesting and diverse one. Because our ideas and our perception are based on facts, not surmises, therefore sound. Because all the little details we can know about friends or family – or the loved one – will make us appreciate them for what they are: human beings.

The concept of knowledge, recognition, is to be found here too: in an almost biblical sense, to ‘recognize’, to really know and still like and love. Therefore I rather won’t have anyone adore me for what I look like. ‘Adore’ me, at all. Because for me that’s not real, ultimately doomed, because it will end the day the veil is lifted, the illusion destroyed.

So I for one, would rather not be adored by but well known to a man of my heart.