By Dr. Sheenu Srinivasan
Presented at Interfaith Thanksgiving: First Church of Christ,
Congregational, Glastonbury,CT, November 22, 2016, 7 PM
For centuries the word tolerance has been interpreted as
a virtuous quality. The dictionary definition of tolerance is one’s “ability
or willingness totolerate something, in particular the existence of
opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.” Is it a good quality? Of course it is! Does it work? It has generally not in the context of enhancing
mutual understanding among people and making the world a better place. It
probably brings some satisfaction to the one who is tolerating, but it does
precious little to the other. Let us examine the concept, especially in the context of
our theme. To me it means that I have no objection to your way of life, your
beliefs, your choice of god and your mode of worship. My question is: who am
I to judge you or your views? Tolerating puts us on two different planes –
not on the same plane and that is a problem.
Tolerating you is simply to let you be. My wise friend,
the late Dr. Frank Lockard, in trying to teach me to be careful with what I
touch in the woods, taught me what you all know: “Leaves three, leave them
be,” that is, do not touch but simply leave them alone as it pertained to
poison ivy. But people are neither poison nor ivy.
The attitude of tolerance towards another person is an
easy one if one wants to practice it. Easier, by far, than acceptance.
Acceptance requires understanding. Understanding requires study, capacity
to: listen, analyze, discuss, compare and contrast – clearly a harder
approach. However that effort on your part to understand, for example, me, may
allow a chance for me to do the same about you and may possibly lead to a
change in my views and my preferences to be more like yours. Or - it may
not. But the effort alone brings us together and closer as it demonstrates a
clear genuine interest on one’s part in regard to the other person. If
instead, you tolerate the other person, it then becomes a one way street. Mutual
acceptance through understanding, however, brings us on the same plane and
enhances our relationship and now it is a two way street – an
Most of us have learned to be tolerant, and that is
admirable. It is necessary but not sufficient. It is a first step and may be used
to climb higher to the harder acceptance concept. I know it is an additional
burden and will require investment of time and thought.
Religious leaders in the past have talked about the
concept of a universal religion. But a universal religion is not practical, not even necessary
as a formal structured organization. What we do here in Glastonbury each year comes close to
this concept as we listen to other views and enjoy them. Perhaps we need to do this
more frequently not just at Thanksgiving and perhaps less formally. As I said before
it demands the precious resource of time but it is worth it. I see no better
alternative as we deliberate and pray tonight for a caring community and a peaceful world.
Dialogue, not monologue is the key. Look around any conflict
around the world. If you trace back any of them, it likely leads to a world unresponsive
to a simple, normal, natural desire, that is, the cry
Talk To Me!
People want to be respected, to be heard, to be understood, to be accepted, to be appreciated even
admired if we can. But a dialogue is essential for that to happen. What is the first sign of
trouble in a relationship? The dreaded phrase: We Need to Talk!!
So let us continue the dialogue. We may even form a group
among ourselves, travel together and attend a service in a church or a mosque or
a puja ceremony in a temple. For example, you will learn if you were to visit a Hindu
temple, there is no such thing as a sermon. If you probe deeper into their other rituals
such as, for example, a wedding, you will be surprised to find parallels between traditions.
I have. The emphasis then becomes learning when we explore that way.
We may even be able to exploit modern technology to
skype, so we can view and listen by signing on to a service in a church different from
our own and observe, learn and appreciate without compromising our own belief system.
We may thus skype together! This would enhance our understanding of the other,
appreciate their approach even as we adhere to our own approaches. Mutual acceptance,
appreciation and adherence.
A few years ago I wrote a visitors manual for those who
visit the Hindu temple in Middletown. I was inspired by the Christian tradition of
the stations of cross. Each “station” in this manual became a sanctum for a deity
representing the One in that form. At the end of that book on page 51, I said “We sincerely
hope and pray that as you complete the tour, you will go home with the faith in
your own faith reinforced”.
So the concept of mutually accepting and appreciating
need not be feared. In the process, we will discover how connected we truly are. We are a
large family in this home called earth. We just saw the interest around the world in
distant countries about our election, not only among leaders but also among people. Why should
they care? There are, of course, selfish interests, but by and large it is that
powerful, unrecognized element called connectivity that is playing its part. Let us
acknowledge it, nourish it, and spread it. And unleash that power.
It should work because the holiest of holy scriptures of
the Hindus – the Vedas - declared over 5000 years ago:
ekam sat vipraa: bahudaa vadanti:
Truth is one but the wise express that truth in different ways. Truth is indeed
one! That shall serve as the basis for mutual acceptance and appreciation even as we adhere to our own beliefs.