Peace conjures uncertainty: one man’s peace might spell another man’s anguish. The infamous Munich deal in 1938, for example, appeased England and France, but it spelt Czechoslovakia’s downfall: if the German chancellor had kept his word and not invaded Poland, who would have cared about old Prague’s eventual conquest! In this case, “Peace is a very apoplexy, lethargy; mull’d, deaf, sleepy, insensible; a getter of more bastard children than a war’s a destroyer of men” (W. Shakespeare, Coriolanus IV.5).
While most desire it, one might be hard pressed to define it, for some it spells out secured borders and the right to exist: conversely, it might entail a neighbour’s destruction. But peace might also be identified with a denied prosperity. Equally, it might be a catch phrase for ethnic unfulfilled aspirations, or the right to be oneself without the fear of harassment. One might thus identify peace with a multidimensional discernment itself underlined by fundamental insights with regards the human person and society as a whole.
Rather than a theoretical mishmash, peace is here identified with personal wellbeing: in other words, the ability to discover peace within oneself, because finding peace within, one can live at peace with others. Discrimination and demonising the diverse – subtle concepts easily ignored – inherently contradict this notion, because both are rooted in violence. Interestingly, they both rely on adjectives to disseminate their stifling aromas.
Insofar as they justify weird notions of what it means to be human, adjectives are treacherous: accordingly, they are perilous to peace. Used violently adjectives emasculate human dignity, often exploiting ridicule to accomplish this end as categorised derision replaces the human face: black, white, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, Jew, religious, atheist, handicapped, obese, old, migrant, poor – all these descriptions and others besides easily degenerate into ghettoization, justifying a veiled but at times desired segregation. Hence one can comprehend Martin Luther King’s advice that “peace is not merely a distant goal, but a means by which we arrive at that goal”. Tolerance might provide us with one key to this insight.
Fundamentally tolerance should not be confused with charity: while the latter implies a personal initiative, the former entails a right enjoyed by each person. Conceited, we often speak of tolerating others, conveniently forgetting that others tolerate us! Tolerance thus provides a learning breathing space where personal self-strictures come into their own as a means to encountering the other. Emulating Lynne Cox’s famous crossing of the Bering Strait in 1987, we too are asked to traverse invisible barriers to discover that “maybe we can become friends”. Her quest definitely eased Soviet-American tensions as the Cold war lingered on.
Tolerance is not laissez-affair: it requires careful analysis and the willingness to challenge the narrow-mindedness of perceived or presumed threats, allowing fresh air to invigorate one’s thoughts and perceptions of the surrounding world. It fundamentally aims at establishing a middle ground where differences can be discussed and maybe resolved: enriching experiences underlined by dialogue. But violence should never be underestimated: the recent death of the Dutch priest Frans van der Lugt clearly demonstrates its intrusive absurdity.
Tolerance begins at home: we need to feel comfortable with ourselves – who we are, our appearance, the way we think. Little things maybe, but unless we respect ourselves it’s definitely harder to respect others, because not accepting ourselves it’s easier to project our obscured brittleness unto others. Conversely, discerning our features we might discover the unknown faces surrounding us, which unfortunately are often perceived as mere featureless façades. So it’s not merely a question of politically correct wording: rather, it co-involves a personal reassessment willing to challenge oneself so that experiencing peace, we can then afford peace for the person standing next to us; our neighbour.