Freedom, Opportunity and Tolerance
Sitting at less than five metres from the former President of Ghana, John Kufuor, I listened to what turned out to be one of my favourite public lectures in my adult life. The venue was the Rhodes House in Oxford. President Kufuor was still in power then.
Three words summarised his incisive paper: freedom, opportunity and tolerance. He said in a university, individuals were free, they had opportunity to express their ideas, but these must be nurtured with tolerance if progress was to be made.
I have always held a similar view that we proceed to a higher level of consciousness only when we can tolerate other people’s views. This idea of tolerance, or what some social scientists would call ‘toleration’, does not mean jettisoning our independent opinions for those of other folks. What tolerance actually means is that we are broad-minded, open-minded, namely we reconcile our views with those of others.
Freedom to think, act, and make judgements about issues of life is never absolute. But, in one way or the other, we are all, more or less, free, in the highly globalised, opinionated and competitive world.
Opportunity is available, even though it is not always widespread. But if we dig deep, inside of us, we will see modicums and atoms of opportunity, inherent in all of us. What we need most to keep freedom and opportunity afloat is tolerance. We need to reconcile ourselves with others. We need to complain less, and act more. We need to do as Mahatma Ghandi of India did: be the change we wish to see in others. If we all seize opportunity that comes our way, and we cherish our freedom, and respect the freedom of others, within the context of a tolerant global society, the world, not only us, will be better for it.
Let’s go back to some intellectual basis of reconciliation of opposite views and epochal events. Remember Karl Marx, and remember Thomas Kuhn. Karl Marx (1818-1883) argued fervently, that historically, every society is not static, and that after primitive communism comes slavery, then feudalism, then capitalism, then socialism, then classless communism, which he believed will be the result of all former epochs.
What this means is that all historical stages of development are never perfect, and that remnants of them are carried over into a new beginning. For Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996), the writer of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, there is always a Thesis, the reigning paradigm, which then gives away to an Anti-thesis, which in turn gives a way to a resultant outcome called the Synthesis. What this means is that no knowledge is absolute, and that no matter what we know of an issue, there will always be an additional knowledge about it.
This makes us remember the position expressed by the award-winning writer of Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who passionately spoke about ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ at TED Talks. Please see and hear her out on possibly ted.com or TalkAfrique.com, and you will get more insights of what she meant, and what I am actually talking about.
It is only a dialectic and eclectic approach to issue, or what Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe called the ‘harmony of opposites’ that can enrich our freedom as a people, increase our opportunities as a human race , and in turn, make tolerance a virtue we all can share, we all must share, and we all will share