Tolerance. E M Forster Essay. Reintroduced By P S Remesh Chandran, Editor, Sahyadri Books Trivandrum Online

PSRemeshChandra By PSRemeshChandra, 19th Sep 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
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E.M.Forster was a celebrated British literary figure who knew deep about the philosophy of the East. He made three visits to India and became familiar with the Hindu, Muslim and Anglo-Indian visions in India. His famous novel A Passage To India was made into a movie by David Lean. In a radio broadcast, he argues in favour of tolerance. His plea for tolerance is to be heeded by all countries; especially since in all continents have problems of cessation and separatism.

A sound state of mind is the only sound foundation to base a stable and lasting civilization.

Tolerance is a dull virtue. It just means, putting up with people. Forster laments that no one has ever written an Ode To Tolerance or raised a statue to her. It is the quality which is most needed in a world constantly threatened with wars. It is the only force which enables different classes and races of people to settle down together as in India. Tolerance is the sound state of mind to base a civilization upon. A sound state of mind is the only sound foundation to base a stable and lasting civilization. In Forster's opinion, God alone has a sound state of mind to base a lasting civilization. ‘Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.'

We say love is what is needed, and then sit back, and the world goes on as before without change.

Tolerance is not just love. Spiritual qualities like love fails when put into practical uses such as solving the world's problems. Love is a failure in public affairs. 'Love is what is needed' we say, and then we sit back, and the world goes on as before. We do nothing to change either the world or our attitude towards the world. When love fails, people will begin to exterminate those whom they do not like, to prevent the disaster from which tolerance need be practised. We know, the Irish and the Scots were not loved much by the Englanders and the South Irish parted from United Kingdom. The Scots in their referendum chose to remain in that union, by a very narrow margin and we do not know what they will choose in future. We know Canada has problems with Quebec, Spain with Catalonia, Belgium with Flanders, and China with so many conquered states like Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and not-yet-conquered nations like Japan and Philippines, with far-reaching-plans with even the distant South Sudan in Africa. Without love for the other peoples contained in their hold and for ethnic minorities living in their provinces, where will these countries go in this world of instant communications and online referendums?

Tolerance is to be practised in the queue, in the street, in the railway, in the office, at the factory, at the telephone.

Tolerance has to be practised by peoples, classes, communities and also nations. It has to be practised in almost all spheres of human activity- in the queue, in the street, in the railway, in the office, at the factory, at the telephone. Tolerance is not weakness or surrender. It is the strong tolerating the weak. It is a temporary arrangement till the world is put in perfect order. According to Forster, tolerance is just a makeshift, suitable for an overcrowded and overheated planet. The world is shockingly full of people who are equally responsible for the colour questions and racial prejudices still prevailing in our globe, still prevailing in even advanced countries such as England, E.M.Forster’s home land. These inferior qualities cloud the future of even the advanced civilizations. Rather than finding fault with others, it is better we turn to ourselves for betterment. It is very easy to find fanaticism in others, but difficult to spot it in our selves. Till The National Home is completed and Love enters it, Tolerance need be retained as a stop-gap arrangement.

All philosophers, prophets and saints from the East have been preaching tolerance through ages. Theirs is a long line.

Forster is not alone in advocating for this virtue of tolerance. All philosophers, prophets and saints from the East have been preaching tolerance through ages. From Gauthama Buddha to Mahatma Gandhi- theirs is a long line. In the West also, Saint Paul, the Apostle, Dante, the Italian poet, Erasmus, the Dutch scholar, Montaigne, the first French essayist, were all preaching tolerance in Europe. In England, there were John Locke, the philosopher and Sydney Smith, the priest. And there was also Forster's friend, the famous Lowes Dickinson. In Germany it was Goethe. We may sum up the names of these supreme lovers of mankind in a small poetical refrain which nobody wrote yet:

Buddhan, Gandhi, St.Paul, Dante,
Erasmus, Montaigne, John Locke,
Sydney Smith and Low`es Dickinson
And the poet Goethe.

(Prepared as a lecture delivered to literature students in May 1992. Slight modifications made since then)

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author avatar PSRemeshChandra
Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author in English and Malayalam. Unmarried, single. Mother University educated, father British Council-trained Teacher. Lives in Trivandrum.

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