Tolerance Is Brazil’s Both Bane and Blessing

Brazilian Di Cavalcanti's Subúrbio Carioca - Rio's Suburb Among certain sectors of Brazilian society, there seems to be a tangible sense of hopelessness and about the future of the country. Some feel that there, despite recent developments, the nation is going in a negative direction. In general, Brazil is known as a fun-loving country where everyday worries can be washed away by the beautiful beaches or danced away during Carnaval and other festivals.

However, despite the capacity to be happy and have fun, it is difficult to see a bright future. So where can Brazilians look to for hope?

Strange as it seems, feeling bleak and generally content at the same time is possible. Brazil is a place where all sectors of society have been continually let down by unfulfilled hopes and aspirations. Nevertheless, when the going gets tough, the forgiving climate, countless beaches, and vibrant cultural traditions are an appealing escape.

Feeling hopeless and happy at the same time is not a contradiction. To help understand, this can be considered a manifestation of what is quite possibly the best thing about Brazil: pluralism.

Pluralism is present in all aspects of Brazilian life. Not only is it seen in religious syncretism, but pluralism stands as Brazil’s foundation. It is the structure that supports what both Brazilians and foreigners consider to be a unique and intriguing existence. There is an undeniably strong sense of cultural, religious, racial, historical, and ideological plurality that makes Brazil what it is. Because of this people have a particular attitude towards each other and to life in general.

Plurality is something that many Brazilians take pride in. This has great potential and is a great source for hope. (Much better than futebol or grand schemes like the Pan American Games; the usual rallying points). Plurality brings people close together and creates a society whose essence is peoples’ sympathy and understanding of each other.

The pluralism that exists in Brazilian society and culture provides an extremely valuable opportunity that is clearly difficult in many other parts of the world. People in Brazil have the capacity to see the world from within the shoes of other people.

In Brazil, where there is an outrageous disparity between rich and poor, talking of closeness is curious. However, most people have the ability to empathize with others who are different because of the sympathy and understanding that exists between them.

They may be far apart, but the pluralism that permeates society brings them close together. Within Brazilians’ capacity to understand the perspectives of others, and to step in the shoes of those who are different, there exists a tolerant society. It is here where hope lies.

It is not my intention to propagate the romantic utopian image of Brazilian society that has been transmitted by certain leaders (and foreign observers). Brazil is certainly not a utopia. To emphasize this, let’s take one of Brazil’s many problems as an example; discrimination is present in Brazil and, as in many countries, has deep roots.

It certainly does exist, but, different from other countries, it is almost exclusively based on a fear of violence and crime. It is not fueled by fear of cultural, racial, religious, etc. blending or contamination, as it is in many places in the world.

In a paradoxical expression of Brazilian pluralism, one of the country’s biggest problems emerges. Pluralism creates the foundation for understanding, and understanding stands the basis for tolerance in any society. In spite of this, the tolerance that exists in Brazil is regularly blamed for Brazil’s greatest shortfalls. This is very ironic.

Corruption within the political class has almost permanently curtailed progressive hopes for change and optimism about the future of Brazil. Corruption and unaccountability seem to be something that Brazilians have always lived with and have always tolerated.

Tolerance lets corruption run free and also feeds the lack of civil responsibility and behavior on the part of individuals. It is possible to see an overt disrespect for others, and this is a cause for concern for many. This is not just young people rebelling or pushing the boundaries of social norms and rules.

They are people who disrespect the streets they live in and the people they live near; they are people who take advantage of unaccountability and the kindness of others; they don’t take responsibility for their actions and they don’t consider others in their decisions. They come from all walks of life.

Is it true, then, that tolerance is a bad thing? In Brazil? Anywhere? Is tolerance really the cause of these problems? Tolerance can be a negative thing, sure, but only when it goes beyond understanding and sympathy, and becomes apathy.

In Brazil, those who blame tolerance for problems like corruption and impunity are misinterpreting the situation. It is true that the ability to tolerate, which exists in Brazil, can create an apathetic or permissible social environment where abuse and lawlessness can thrive. However, tolerance should not be to blame and should not be discouraged. The problem at had is clearly apathy.

Apathy: indifference, impassiveness, and a lack of interest or concern regarding matters of importance is what creates and supports systemic corruption, disrespect among neighbors, and feelings of hopelessness.

Tolerance: a fair, objective, and permissible attitude toward persons, opinions, and practices, which differ from your own, is not a problem. It actually is a very important element that holds together the social fabric in Brazil.

The tolerance that exists in Brazil is an example for the world to follow. It can only make Brazil a better place.

Ezra Shane has lived in Rio de Janeiro for one year and he is very interested in all aspects of Brazil.

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