Tolerance is neither built into our behaviour, in the way that physiological needs like hunger and thirst are, nor a universal value practised by everyone. As the basis of democratic culture, in which truth is relative and differences are legitimate, tolerance is incompatible with totalitarian regimes, which advocate a single belief system. And yet, in a world that aspires to peace and where democracy is on the rise, it is still not a universal fact. On the contrary, we are witnessing a strong resurgence of racism, xenophobia, extreme forms of nationalism, religious fanaticism all forms of social exclusion and discrimination.
Peace, concord and democracy presuppose a shared vision of the past, present and future. And to firmly establish common values, all stakeholders need to know not only what they are talking about but also what they are talking with. We cannot deal in ideas – especially ideas that have a variable or debatable content – without dealing in words, which are the vehicles of strong cultural traditions, social sensitivities and symbolic values; if we reduce them to a single formulation in some international working language, we run the risk of impoverishing or obscuring them.
Tolerance does not have a constant meaning, either in space or in time. The present, linguistically based project – which is both lexicographical and discourse-oriented, and invites further investigations of the same kind – fulfils an ethical purpose: to disseminate the sort of knowledge that will promote mutual respect and understanding. Above all, it is a response to questions about culture. There are particular moments in times of peace, or, on the contrary, in times of crisis, when tolerance and its antonyms, intolerance and the intolerable, appear, in every language, to acquire a special meaning, overlaid with ethnic, religious, social and sexual connotations, which eventually exercises a strong influence on how the concept, which has not quite come of age still, is handled.
An initial sample of languages representing various regions of the world has enabled researchers, mainly sociolinguists, led by Professor Paul Siblot, the Director of the Praxiling research team in Linguistic Science at the Paul Valéry University in Montpellier to conduct some initial research. Each language area has been the focus of a specific analysis that includes a description of the term, the circumstances in which it first emerged, the stages of its evolution, its use and the social milieu in which it has had currency. The intention behind these thumbnail sketches was not to produce a multilingual lexicon devised by linguists for the benefit of interpreters and translators, but, more simply and more basically, to alert the greatest number possible of those who are actively engaged in the struggle for a fairer and more harmonious society to the difficulties raised by an attempt to define their shared aspiration of living in harmony with others.
The Tower of Babel was a construction project doomed to remain uncompleted because its workers – prisoners of the logic specific to each of their languages – could not communicate with one another or agree on the building of the final storeys. The project of building tolerance, an essential element of a culture of peace, must not remain unfinished, for lack of workers. These builders – men, women and young people of goodwill – must be able to communicate with one another, whatever their language, in order to carry out a task which, in an era of globalization, is a precondition of living in harmony.
This following document reveals, notwithstanding, the riches of a common treasure of words and experiences which express, in every culture, the urgent necessity of accepting the Other.