By Tim Middleton
Let us get it clear right at the outset: there are no difficult people! Of course, we will all be able to think of many people whom we consider to be difficult, but they are not difficult people. They are different, sure, and because they are different to us we find them difficult but that does not make them difficult people. They are simply different and diversity is what makes this world; diversity is what we are looking for; diversity is what we need. The difficult thing is dealing with the differences. However, if we want and believe in that diversity, then we need to be tolerant; in that regard, we cannot have a rant about others if we consider ourselves to be tolerant. So how tolerant are we? Do we rant (and rave) or do we hide our ‘rant’ in being tole-rant? Let us test ourselves!
Are we tolerant of bad drivers? Are we tolerant of drivers who barge in when we have been queueing patiently? Are we tolerant of selfish, arrogant, bullying drivers? Are we tolerant of drivers who overtake on blind rises, who stop in the middle of junctions, who park in the middle of the road? Do we put up with such folk and allow them to continue their different behaviour? Ah, but we must be tolerant, must we not?
Are we tolerant of slow service in shops or on the phone or the internet? Are we tolerant of rudeness, sloppiness, tardiness, casualness, ineptitude? In such scenarios, do we raise a storm? Do we vow never to return to those premises again? Or if we are on the serving side, are we tolerant of slow customers? Are we tolerant of excuses, arrogance, criticism? Ah, but we must be tolerant!
On the sports field, are we tolerant of slow play, of dirty play, of bad play? Are we tolerant of referees who make mistakes, team-mates who let us down, opponents who cheat and mock and complain, spectators who abuse anyone and everyone? Ah, but we must be tolerant, remember!
In a school context, are parents tolerant of their children’s poor performances and behaviour? Are teachers tolerant of pupils’ cheek and arrogance, disdain and disposal? Are parents tolerant of those whom they consider to be poor teachers? Are teachers tolerant of those whom they consider to be poor parents? Are children tolerant of their parents’ apparent eccentricities? Are children tolerant of their teachers’ methods?
Are we tolerant of abusers and adulterers? Are we tolerant of skivers and stealers? Are we tolerant of opponents and obstructions? Must we be tolerant of those who like different music to us, different food or clothes or cars? Are we to be tolerant of those who hold very different views to us, be they extreme, radical, dangerous? Are we to be tolerant of those who are intolerant? If we are to be tolerant does it mean we cannot end with a rant? Rather, must we simply suck it up, say nothing and smile sweetly? Does it mean we must just give in to what others want and do? How can we all be tolerant? Will we end up being stuck outside a door saying to the other person, “After you” when they also are saying, “No, no, after you!” So who ultimately must be tolerant? Me but not you? You but not me?
Are we tolerant of all these questions about being tolerant? Have we reached the point where we have said, “Enough! No more!”? If so, are we still being tolerant? Does tolerance mean that we must put up with anything and everything? No, though it can be helpful for us to look at ourselves before we jump in and accuse, charge or judge others.
So, what is today’s lesson? What are we to teach our young people when it comes to tolerance? There is diversity, all around us. We want that; we need it; we welcome it. No arguments there. Along with diversity, there needs to be tolerance, because other people’s differences make it difficult for us. Children, as well as adults, need to learn to be tolerant, for sure — and there is no better place to do that than in school. But that tolerance is not to be random, unthinking, total, extreme. Even in the space of this article we have surely seen some things of which we will not be tolerant. So let us be careful about our tolerance of tolerance. This tolerant rant is now over! And if you do not agree with this writer on this matter, you know what you must do!
l Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.