Tasamuh, Tolerance, Live and Let Live: Words are Important, by Marilena Falcone

“Avert your gaze. Staring is rude”: how many of us, especially the ones who grew up in the West, heard these words repeated to us at a young age while walking out in the streets? 

Almost all of us.

We were invited not to keep looking explicitly at other people, especially those who might seem odd, or different, to the curious yet innocent eyes of a child, to prevent generating feelings of embarrassment or rejection: such was our first brush with the fundamental principle of tolerance which would return, as we grew up, in the well-known saying Live and Let Live. In the 19th century the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote:

In making his way through life, a man will find it useful to be ready and able to do two things: to look ahead and to overlook; the one will protect him from loss and injury, the other from disputes and squabbles. “ 

(The Widsom of Life – Counsels and Maxims, 1851). 

However, in today’s world especially Live and Let Live risks turning into indifference, if not into outright denial (through invisibility) of those who are outside of what are considered to be the established norms.

So, what does tolerance mean in our day?

What has characterized the year that is coming to an end, 2019, declared as the Year of Tolerance by H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE?

The original Arabic term تسامح (tasamuh) in its original form has a subtle nuance that is lost in the translation to English. Eugenio Malatacca, Italian Arabist based in Dubai, tells us that تسامح points to the reciprocity of a mutual allowing of each other’s behavior: a form of Live and Let Live which is, therefore, very far from the indifference and denial which tolerance risks sliding into during our times, because it affirms the awareness of the existence of each person and the freedom to exercise it, both individually and in relationship to others. Reciprocally.

Such a concept of tolerance, which is often not fully understood in the Western world, does not necessarily apply on a large scale in terms of human rights or of each country’s legal system, which are constantly evolving according to the inevitable ebbs and flows of history. Rather, it is a quality of the character of each population. It shows up in everyday life, in the small gestures of common people. It includes curiosity towards others along with the ability to preserve one’s framework of beliefs and traditions, with no obligation to align to nor to ignore each other in order to accept or be accepted. It is the inborn open-minded attitude towards dialogue and peaceful coexistence that comes from having lived in a place that has always been a hub for commerce, be it the Tiber Island, the port of Shanghai, or a crossroads on the Spice Trade Route. Or the UAE, Homeland of Tolerance.

From this perspective, therefore, the words tweeted by Pope Francis on the occasion of his historical visit to the UAE for the celebrations of the Year of Tolerance take on a very clear meaning: “{I come here} as a brother, in order to write a page of dialogue together, and to travel paths of peace together”.

Such a path of brotherhood, dialogue, and peace for many of those who have lived for some time in the UAE began well before 2019, and will certainly continue, for all people of good will, in the coming years.

Marilena Falcone was born and raised in Rome, Italy, where she earned her master’s degree in biomedical mechanical engineering and started a career in IT. In 2008, Marilena moved to Dubai following her husband. Here, she had the unique chance to pursue her original passion for the humanities and for writing. She has been a contributor for several online magazines and paper publications both in Italy and in the UAE.

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