“Tolerant to a fault”- 16 October 2016

A youth stated that he belonged to a religious and God fearing family where he was taught to be polite, tolerant and respectful of others. Today he felt it was like a ‘huge mistake’ to do so, that because of his tolerant and shy nature because he never pushed himself to the forefront in dealing with people he has been suffering silently without protesting. He needed to change his personality and become more aggressive like his peers. He friends in college he realised were pushy to the point of being rude.

Assertiveness is often mistaken as aggressiveness. Unfortunately. The two types of behaviour are entirely distinct from each other and needs to be understood properly. When we talk of assertiveness we mean the capability to stand for your rights and the ability to express it in clear and bold terms in spite of being polite and respectful of the other. This seems like a tough task for many who either know how to shout and be aggressive or know how to be quiet and submissive! The magical rule lies somewhere in between the two. This golden behaviour needs to be taught to all and the beauty is that it can be taught from an early age.

A housewife in depression regretted her inability to ‘answer back’ the elders and other women members in house as she was taught by her parents to be quiet and tolerant in all circumstances. She confessed that all her four sisters were alike in this feature and suffered at their marital homes as a consequence of too much tolerance. ‘We were never taught how to speak up our mind and how to present a counter opinion or express a feeling’. ‘Other seniors have taken advantage of it and have pushed me and my family aside’. She was tolerant to a fault you would agree.

An officer suffered tremendous stress because his bosses would load him with anything and everything as he was sincere, dutiful and could never say ‘No’! He had no choice finally but to take a month’s leave on medical grounds because his body reported multiple health symptoms. This is not unusual for many honest workers who get exploited and pay a price either with mental stress or physical ailments. Instead of treating them for only stress what is needed is effective training in assertiveness. This is again a manifestation of being tolerant beyond your limits.

In marital situations we see this often enough. Generally a submissive wife suffers at the hands of her husband or her in-laws and takes all the nonsense for several years and then one fine day when her tolerance reaches a limit she becomes a ‘screaming siren’ so to say or a ‘nag’. Members of the family are dumb-founded at the change in her from being a sweet nothing to a bitter something. Ibsen’s classical play ‘A doll’s house’ is a lovely illustration of what I am trying to convey.

It is generally advised to be tolerant as it is known as one of the virtues of good living. Tolerance in general parlance would mean learning to adjust and adapt to the others in spite of their differences. Tolerance would mean being patient and respectful of elders and seniors. Tolerance would mean being calm and peaceful in your mind. But tolerance beyond a point translates into submissiveness and accommodation of others faults and bad behaviour which does not seem to work in the practical world. It would be difficult to arrive at a consensus of what is an ideal level of tolerance. How much to tolerate and no more?

One of the finest illustration is from the epic of Mahabharta. Before the beginning of the war on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, when Arjuna loses his confidence seeing all his loved ones in the opposite camp, Lord Krishna counsels him to control his emotions and fight for his ‘Dharma’. Mahabharta is known as a ‘dharma yudh’ because the war was about the righteous ownership of the land that belonged to the Pandava but was usurped by the Kauravas. It was hence a fight for their survival to get back their rights of property. Lord Krishna hence counsels Arjuna that he would go down into the annals of history as a ‘coward’ if he ‘ran’ away from the battlefield and did not fight for his rights. No one in the world would respect him for whatever good qualities he had if he did not assert himself to the best of his ability in the moment. If Arjuna had submitted to his emotionally weak mind history would have been different.


Hinduism teaches us to stand up for our rights and to fight for them if necessary. To submit to exploitation is cowardice and it does no good to anyone. This does not mean that Hinduism promotes aggression –far from it- it means it teaches assertiveness for a cause and purpose. We would be failing in our duty if we did not do so. Our first duty is towards ourselves and then towards others. Since each individual is a unit of this universe, if each one behaved with responsibility and duty towards first him-self / herself, then towards others and the society, the world would naturally become a better place to live in. The world is as perfect as each individual is and as imperfect as each individual is.

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