The world is very full of people - appallingly full: it has never been so full before, and they are all tumbling over each other. Most of these people one doesn't know and some of them one doesn't like; doesn't like the colour of their skins, say, or the shapes of their noses, or the way they blow them or don't blow them, or the way they talk, or their smell, or their clothes, or their fondness for jazz or their dislike of jazz, and so on. Well, what is one to do? There are two solutions. One of them is the Nazi solution. If you don't like people, kill them, banish them, segregate them, and then strut up and down proclaiming that you are the salt of the earth. The other way is much less thrilling, but it is on the whole the way of the democracies, and I prefer it. If you don't like people, put up with them as well as you can. Don't try to love them: you can't, you'll only strain yourself. But try to tolerate them. On the basis of that tolerance a civilized future may be built. Certainly I can see no other foundation for the post-war world.
For what it will most need is the negative virtues: not being huffy, touchy, irritable, revengeful. I have lost all faith in positive militant ideals; they can so seldom be carried out without thousands of human beings getting maimed or imprisoned. Phrases like "I will purge this nation.'' "I will clean up this city" terrify and disgust me. They might not have mattered when the world was emptier: they are horrifying now, when one nation is mixed up with another, when one city cannot be organically separated from its neighbours. And, another point: reconstruction is unlikely to be rapid. I do not believe that we are psychologically fit for it, plan the architects never so wisely. In the long run, yes, perhaps: the history of our race justifies that hope. But civilization has its mysterious regressions, and it seems to me that we are fated now to be in one of them, and must recognize this and behave accordingly. Tolerance, I believe, will be imperative after the establishment of peace. It's always useful to take a concrete instance: and I have been asking myself how I should behave if, after peace was signed, I met Germans who had been fighting against us. I shouldn't try to love them: I shouldn't feel inclined. They have broken a window in my little ugly flat for one thing. But I shall try to tolerate them, because it is common sense, because in the post-war world we shall have to live with Germans. We can't exterminate them, any more than they have succeeded in exterminating the Jews. We shall have to put up with them, not for any lofty reason, but because it is the next thing that will have to be done.
I don't then regard tolerance as a great eternally established divine principle, though I might perhaps quote "In my Father's house are many mansions" in support of such a view. It is just a makeshift, suitable for an overcrowded and overheated planet. It carries on when love gives out, and love generally gives out as soon as we move away from our home and our friends and stand among strangers in a queue for potatoes. Tolerance is wanted in the queue; otherwise we think, "Why will people be so slow?''; it is wanted in the tube, or '"Why will people be so fat?''; it is wanted at the telephone, or "Why are they so deaf?"; or conversely, "Why do they mumble?'' It is wanted in the street, in the office, at the factory, and it is wanted above all between classes. races, and nations. It's dull. And yet it entails imagination. For you have all the time to be putting yourself in someone else's place. Which is a desirable spiritual exercise....
Tolerance is not the same as weakness. Putting up with people does not mean giving in to them. This complicates the problem. But the rebuilding of civilization is bound to be complicated. I only feel certain that unless the Lord builds the house, they will labour in vain who build it. Perhaps, when the house is completed, love will enter it, and the greatest force in our private lives will also rule in public life.
Talking about the text
1. According to Forster, what two ways are there for dealing with people one does not like? Which does he prefer, and why?
2. Why does the writer choose Germany to exemplify his view?
3. What is Forster's understanding of history?
4. This excerpt is taken from a special kind of text known as an essay. The essay is a fairly open text form, but - generally speaking - there are two kinds: the argumentative and the expository essay. In both kinds, the writer presents his highly personal way of viewing some serious or light topic in an artistic way.
What kind of essay does the excerpt from Forster's "On Tolerance" represent? Explain your decision.
5. This text was first broadcast on radio by Forster himself. Considering the language and style of the text, what sort of audience is the essay apparently aimed at? Quote from the text to support your answer.
6. "Putting up with people does not mean giving in to them. This complicates the problem". Do you agree with these statements? If so, give examples from your personal experience or from public life to support these views. If not, defend your position in an argumentative text.