This I Believe

Kameshwari - Helsinki, Finland
Entered on December 12, 2007
Age Group: Under 18
Themes: tolerance

I believe in tolerance. We should not shun people because of prejudice, stereotype, or their differing beliefs. In a world that is increasingly divided, I believe in using tolerance to strengthen our ties.

Tolerance is a value I have confidence in, because I learned to appreciate its importance for the first time when I was just 12, when I went to Pakistan.

As an Indian I was apprehensive about going there. My friends bade me tearful good-byes in India. I told myself that I should expect weird things to happen. India and Pakistan have never been friendly, and three wars and 57 years of misunderstandings have seen to that. I was proud to be from my side of the border: the ‘successful’ side as I liked to think. I expected to get strange looks, with some open hatred thrown in. What I got on arrival there were invitations to a bunch of dinner parties in my first week! I didn’t expect to be asked for copies of Indian movies. I didn’t expect acceptance! It was for the first time that I felt embarrassed at being misinformed on what to expect from the Pakistani people, close to us in many ways.

I did my best to make up. I learned Urdu phrases, ate local meals, bought Pakistani outfits, and even cheered their cricket team. I learnt to be tolerant and accepting, while retaining my roots.

The following summer I visited India, and met friends there. They had a long list of questions: What was it like? Were there bombs everywhere? How many jehadis had I heard about? Did I have to wear a Burkha to school? I answered their unending questions, trying to explain that it wasn’t so bad. Finally, one of my friends, Raja, said “they’re all terrorists, smuggling bombs everywhere to kill”. I asked him how many Pakistanis he had met. I told him that an average Pakistani liked India, that women there loved to wear Indian sarees, or colorful bindis. He left, muttering something inaudible.

I was seething. It wasn’t like there weren’t Pakistani’s who hated India. But those were the Pak army and intelligence types! The average citizen was in awe of India!

This problem is not unique to India. It is mainly because of intolerance that some have problems with others. Ancient Romans couldn’t tolerate Christians, and Christians couldn’t tolerate non-Christians during their Crusades. Hitler couldn’t tolerate Jews during the Holocaust, and today, the Hamas cannot tolerate the Fatah, and the Taliban cannot tolerate “Infidels”.

Since my stay in Pakistan I have tried to be tolerant. I try not to judge people based on first impressions, or to ‘stereotype’. If I dislike somebody, I am never openly rude; I make an extra effort to be nicer than I am to a stranger.

I believe in tolerance as a value because I think it can change the world. We need to understand that there are other kinds of people in the world, with other beliefs. We need to let them live with their own beliefs, and not force our own beliefs on them. We need to stop classing people on first impressions, and give them a chance. We need to realize that our own truth may not be truer than someone else’s truth. We need to learn to co-exist with others, and for this inculcating tolerance as a value and belief will certainly help.

This is not a perfect World, we see things everyday,

That make us take a second look, or make us turn away.

The heart of man has turned to stone, and compassion is not found,

We’ve taken Love and Friendship, and beat them to the ground.

No longer do we hold our Hopes and all our Dreams so dear,

At any given moment, we will trade them in for fear.

Let’s end this reign of violence, and halt these evil designs,

We are all in this as one Human Race, to that we must resign.

So please reach out, so all of us, cease the malice and the pain,

And maybe one day soon, we’ll hear Sweet Music in the Rain.

So as you kneel and Pray to God for a better life for all,

Ask that Peace and Tolerance be placed visible on the Wall.”

– John Leroy Maxwell (2003)