Does tolerance create imbalance?
Some people feel that tolerance perpetuates the imbalance of power – tolerating powerful wrongdoers simply makes them more brazen.
Actually however, tolerance prevents imbalance in our reactions to problems. It helps us to keep small things small, thereby freeing us to focus on big things. Let’s take the example where we are driving to an important meeting and someone cuts us up. If our tolerance muscles are weak, we may get enraged, chase that rude driver and end up wasting our time. Ultimately, we’ll arrive late and disturbed for our meeting. In contrast, if our tolerance muscles are strong, we won’t let that person spoil our mood. Seeing that incident as a minor irritant unworthy of any more of our attention, we will put it behind us and progress towards our important meeting.
Similar is the context of the Gita’s call for tolerance (02.14). First, it directs our vision beyond the temporality of the physical body to the eternality of the spiritual soul (02.13). In order to realise our eternality, we need to tolerate life’s inevitable dualities such as heat and cold, which are like small things, and persevere on the path of dharma, which is the big thing.
And yet the same Gita doesn’t ask Arjuna to tolerate the Kaurava’s atrocities. Why not? Because in that context, fighting against the Kauravas was his dharma – that was the big thing for him. Accordingly, the Gita urges him to cultivate spiritual consciousness and fight (03.30). It even promises him divine empowerment that will guarantee victory (11.33).
Essentially, tolerance helps us keep our inner balance amidst outer provocations, thereby preventing imbalanced reactions. When internally balanced, we can intelligently devise effective measures for dealing with outer imbalances.
Thus, tolerance firstly prevents outer imbalance from triggering inner imbalance, and secondly helps us to do our best for restoring outer balance.
The nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed – Bhagavad Gita 2.14