On love, tolerance and truth in our brave new world

These are difficult times for some of us. Our divisions seem more intractable than ever and a certain level of hatred seems to have been unleashed on both sides of the Atlantic, following the tumultuous events of last year. I find myself as frustrated with the dogmatic left as I am with the resurgent right – all while wondering what kind of world I have brought my son into and what the future holds.

I came across this the other day from the great British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, which I thought was astonishingly prescient and never more timely. Not just because of his belief in love and tolerance, but because of his call for intellectual rigour and a truth based on fact, no matter how unpalatable it may be. In this dystopian new world of post-truth and fake news, I see so many, from all sides of the political spectrum, falling for easy dichotomies and false platitudes. I think a little rigour would go a very long way.

In 1959, Russell, who was 87, was asked this question: “What would you think it’s worth telling future generations about the life you’ve lived and the lessons you’ve learned from it?

This was his reply:

“I should like to say two things, one intellectual and one moral. The intellectual thing I should want to say is this: When you are studying any matter, or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only what are the facts and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted either by what you wish to believe, or by what you think would have beneficent social effects if it were believed. But look only, and solely, at what are the facts. That is the intellectual thing that I should wish to say.

The moral thing I should wish to say… I should say: love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more closely and closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way, and if we are to live together and not die together we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”

In the spirit of Russell, I’m trying to keep an open mind, to seek the truth rather than easy moral certainties, and to practice tolerance and kindness, more than ever. May love and kindness prevail.

33 thoughts on “On love, tolerance and truth in our brave new world

  1. I agree with keeneshort in that Russell’s words are as relevant today as they were when he spoke them. We continue to become more and more interconnected. You wrote a great post here and one thing I continue to seek on any matter is the truth. I find myself more and more disheartened by the media and many things that are published. It has become difficult to find and understand the truth in anything with all of this, as you put it, “post-truth and fake news”.

    • Thank you for this. I think the media’s getting the blame for everything right now, which is a bit unfortunate – as a former journo, I know its faults better than anyone but there are still some great publications/outlets out there that are worth a read/listen. It’s just that there are an awful lot of news sources in our digital world now that are less trustworthy – it’s vital to distinguish between the two. Can’t see that situation getting any better sadly..

      • I didn’t mean to suggest that all media are corrupt. I used to follow all of them and then cut my lines to a select few whom I initially believed were nonpartisan. We all have our leanings, but it is unfortunate for the listeners, readers, and viewers when some of the outlets seem to only be in business to attack one another, the other’s beliefs, and the other candidate. Not to get political, but I also have a problem with politicians as a whole. One candidate makes a promise and I vote for them based on those promises only to have them fail to follow through. This week they want the vote of a certain segment of the population, next week their convictions change along with the next majority. Thank you for the honest discussion.

      • Ah – this is true – and no matter who gets in power, nothing fundamental ever seems to change. I think you echo a global disillusionment with politics and politicians – perhaps nothing short of a massive systemic change is needed, and perhaps this is inevitable sooner rather than later with the direction our world seems to be heading in.

    • Ah Brad – that was lovely and so very sad too. It says so much about our world somehow. My condolences to you. And yes, there is a video to accompany this – I did try and share it in my post but it wasn’t allowing me to for some reason – I am not enough of a techie to work these things out sometimes..

  2. Thank you for this post! Russell also advocated helping others as a way to find happiness. It was great reading you, and Like you, I endeavour to be kind and tolerant 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful day!

  3. wow! this is such a great post on so many levels! i believe close-mindedness is one of the most detrimental things to a group, church, gathering, family especially. i need to be better at “loving” and especially not getting so offended at what others might say, i love how Russell said “we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like” that is so true! thank you for such an insightful post

    • You’re very welcome. I think we all need to be better at loving, actually, and at not getting offended so easily – good luck to all of us!

  4. I am about to start studying Philosophy and Theology at Oxford University, so I found this post really interesting. I agree with everything you say, although with reference to Russell’s intellectual point, I do think it’s possible to get too embroiled and bogged down in seeking ‘truth’, and that sometimes producing social benefits should outweigh loyalty to facts, for example if telling a white lie would protect someone from harm. As Utilitarians argue, surely whichever action produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people is the best action

    • Interesting point – though not sure I completely agree. The problem for me is – who makes that call? Something a bit patronising in it for me because I would always choose a harsh truth over an easy lie, which I think is partly Russell’s point.

      • I understand where you’re coming from, and certainly for governments I think they have a responsibility to always tell their public the truth, even if it’s not what they want to hear, because they have a right to know. I still think though that there can be occasions, on a more personal level, where a white lie could save an awful lot of pain and suffering that would otherwise be inflicted by a ‘harsh truth’

      • Agree – on a personal level, the issue becomes much more subjective and I know (from experience!) that not everyone wants to hear the harsh truth. But on an intellectual – and government level , as you say – I think it’s vital to be rigorous, especially now, in the age of Twitter. You should be forced to back up the things you say..

  5. Hi, this is an amazing post; you have managed to put so much which is positive into such a short piece! Thank you so much for sharing, and for projecting such good feeling into the world. I have never heard of Bertrand Russel, but I am glad I know him now. This is an important and significant quote 🙂

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