A group of blind men heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town. None of them was aware of its shape and form. Curious, they said: ‘Let us inspect and know what it is’. Reaching the animal, they groped for it in order to know about it. The first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said "This being is like a thick snake". To the one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. The third, whose hand was upon its leg, said the animal was like a pillar or a tree-trunk. The fourth blind man who placed his hand upon the animal’s side said it was a “wall". The fifth who felt its tail described it as a rope. The last one felt its tusk and said that the elephant was hard, smooth and like a spear.
This famous story has been used since ages to explain the limitation of our knowledge of the reality. We, like the blind men, can perceive only part of the reality, but we are convinced that we know the complete reality and start disputing the perception of reality as conceived by other people. Most people are either unaware or refuse to acknowledge the limitation of their knowledge. The English philosopher Bertrand Russell said this aptly, “The fundamental cause of the trouble in the modern world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
The oldest Hindu scripture Rig Veda says, “Truth is One; the wise call it by many names (ekam sat vipraha bahuda vadanti).” A wise person, therefore, tries to see the world from different perspectives to know the reality rather than dismissing all perspectives other than his own. He knows the limitation of his knowledge and strives to learn more so that he can understand the truth better. For example, Issac Newton is considered to be one of the greatest scientists and mathematicians the world has ever seen. However, he was always aware of his limitation and admitted, “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
Education is the process of teaching or learning in a school, or the knowledge that you get from this. Education helps us acquire knowledge from the greatest minds of the world. Education is like a ray of light that removes the darkness of our ignorance. For example, for thousands of years many Indians believed that the Solar or Lunar eclipse occurred due to the demons Rahu-Ketu gobbling up the Sun or the Moon; and the resulting dark phase was considered to be quite inauspicious. Thanks to education, scientists gained knowledge of the movements of the celestial bodies and were able to ascertain the real cause of these phenomena. They are even able to accurately predict their occurrence several centuries in advance. In the same way, for thousands of years, men believed that diseases like the plagues were sent by Gods to punish the men for their evil deeds. However, scientists were able to identify the actual cause of plagues and eliminate them from the world.
Good education expands our ability to think as we learn many ideas and concepts during our education that can be used in our life to better understand the reality. The American physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. explained the power of education, “One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions”. We are transformed due to power of our knowledge and the society gets transformed if it is full of educated people. Once people acquire true knowledge, they forgo superstitions and false knowledge that is readily accepted by the ignorant. Education also helps us develop better understanding of people, culture and traditions. We develop the ability to overcome prejudice and dismiss irrational fears. When we understand the world, we can predict the behaviour of people accurately. Instead of insisting that we alone know the truth, we also wish to know the perspectives of other people. This process automatically leads to tolerance. A French proverb beautifully says, “To understand all is to forgive all”.
Tolerance is the ability or willingness to allow or not interfere with the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with. An educated person knows that the same thing may appear different to different people. For example, the policy of reservation based on caste is viewed differently by the people who belong to the reserved castes and those who are from the unreserved castes. Hence, instead of sticking to his own perspective, he also tries to understand other people’s point of view and thus develops tolerance. The ignorant people lack tolerance of other religions as they consider only their religion to be true religion. It is common in India to notice intolerance between the people of different states on the issue of language. There had been strong anti-Hindi movement in states like Tamil Nadu. Sometimes, different food choices of people from different regions also sow the seeds of intolerance between them. Even within the family, people stereotype the roles of women and become intolerant when women wish to play other roles in the society. In recent years, there have been demonstrations in favour and against certain legislations like Citizenship Amendment Act, each side openly criticizing and ridiculing the other without trying to understand each other’s perspective. Even movies are not spared and there were protests and violence by some intolerant groups when the Hindi movie Padmavat was released.
Intolerance is often a result of limited knowledge or false knowledge. When people believe a fallacy to be a fact, intolerance is born. It is important, therefore, for the people to develop scientific temper since results obtained by scientific investigations are universal. The children must be provided moral education and encouraged to learn to live in unity with the diverse cultures and traditions of the nation. It is important that media plays a positive role in the society and does not provoke distrust and intolerance by sensationalizing an issue. Government must make stricter laws for trolling, mob lynching, hate speeches and enforce them strictly so that people desist from creating hatred against one another. There must be dialogue between different groups to understand and respect each other. Author William Ury advised, “Tolerance is not just agreeing with one another or remaining indifferent in the face of injustice, but rather showing respect for the essential humanity in every person.”
Dr A. P. J. Abdul Kalam once said, “The purpose of education is to make good human beings with skill and expertise... Enlightened human beings can be created by teachers”. When people are educated, they develop the ability of understand different dimensions of truth and develop tolerance. Education can develop rational thinking and scientific temper which can help overcome prejudices and superstition. Educated people accept multiple points of view and appreciate diversity. India is a country with immense diversity and tolerance is necessary to maintain its unity.
The French philosopher Voltaire once said, “I do not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death for your right to say.”Only education can help us developing such spirit of tolerance.