In today’s article, as we enter the New Year, I shall write about tolerance and respect. Nothing can be more important in 2016 as any other time. We need to reflect more on it and practice it better than before, yet, without therefore losing one’s own values, identity, traditions and belief. It is demanding and humbling.

The acclaimed Norwegian-Danish writer Lars Saabye Christensen said last Sunday in an interview in the Oslo-based Aftenposten newspaper’s weekend magazine that “we can be so tolerant that we make ourselves self-effacing and invisable” (in Norwegian, “vi kan bli så tolerante at man utsletter seg selv”).

He does have a point, yet, the most important point would be that we should all learn so much about own values and opinions to feel comfortable to discuss them with anyone, being flatter and criticized without swaying. We should also know enough about others to be able to appreciate their values, and learn from them. But to reach that level of confidence, openness and tolerance can only happen after long and deep learning processes. I would rather underline that than saying we have become too tolerant.

True, we are today so concerned about being politically correct, indeed in liberal and intellectual circles in Europe, those places I assume Saabye Christensen ventures, that we cannot express doubts or disagree with anyone, and if we do, we must tiptoe so that we are still members of the right groups of the good society. Saabye Christensen warns us against taking opinions wholesale; and I assume he wants us to feel free to have one opinion about something, and that one can be mainstream, and a totally different opinion about something else, which is not at all mainstream.

For example, I may like to support the poor, and advocate that we should share with others. Yet, I may like to wear a fashionable black suit and an expensive silk scarf, when I venture out in the world from my west-end apartment. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and the acclaimed writer did so himself for the interview I mentioned. But what we expect from him - and from me - is that we have a fair degree of analysis about our values and how we may be perceived, as regards small and big issues. And we should wear our hat the way we want.

That is Saabye Christensen’s point.

When Lars Saabye Christensen was a schoolboy at Uranienborg School in urban west-end Oslo in the 1960s, he learned school subjects, but more importantly, he learned to become a social being. He says that even at the young primary school-age was to stand in a corner of the playground, on the tarmac with brick buildings around him, observing what his fellow classmates did, and of course, take part in the game himself.

It was then he began to realize that we are all different and full of stories, some of them similar, others entirely separate, and sometimes, people who were indeed different would be intertwined in each others’ stories. Indeed fascinating and imaginative from a little schoolboy, who also played along with the others in games and sports, and in sharing and learning stories, experiencing the world around him, and beginning to become the analyst and opinion-leader that he is. To place topics and themes on the agenda is an import role of a writer, and to hold up a mirror at let us all see ourselves ‘on the stage’.

Being introvert, thoughtful and keeping to oneself may be good, to a certain extent. Being extrovert, even exhibitionist, and seemingly carefree may also be good, again to a degree. In order to learn and understand, we must do both, and we must collect and analyze data from many sources. A writer must do that, as an opinion leader, a participant in the intellectual world as well as everyday society. A writer must put words to what we all see and wonder about, and also dare to question what is mainstream and in.

We live in a time when it is important to be politically correct and follow the mainstream flow. When I was young in the 1960s and 70s, we objected to much of the established society, and if we didn’t, we would be seen as being outdated and reactionary. Earlier as well as when I was young, extreme, ultraconservative opinions, indeed New-Nazi sympathies, would be seen as entirely unacceptable. Marxist thinking was acceptable, especially as a method for analysis the economy and society at large.

At any time, we seem to define what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’, and we are quite quick to say what is unacceptable. In USA, many people seem to have particularly closed minds to much of what goes on in the rest of the world. In Europe, we seem to more tolerant and open, yet, we within limits, although we would debate everything, almost in a nihilistic way, saying that everything goes. But then comes Saabye Christensen and suggests that we have gone too far.

He wants us to be clearer about who we are and what our core values and opinions are. He wants us to analyze our own foundation in moral, ethical, religious, political and social fields. He warns against being too open-minded. Well, I think he wants us to be that, too, but not hiding what we stand for, what we are, where we came from, and how we will be in a smaller, multi-cultural world.

In the quote from him at the beginning of my article, Saabye Christensen warns against being so tolerant that we become unclear and foggy. Many times we perhaps just say we accept and tolerate ‘everything’, but behind closed doors, we say something else. He seems to have had enough of such tolerance. He doesn’t want us to pretend and always be politically correct. And it is true that one day when things become tight, we may no longer stand by those tolerant views. We may use the same medicine as extremists.

It is risky to speak like Saabye Christensen does, and we should either applaud him, or we should tell him to tread very carefully. Because one of the things that it can lead it to, is that many unsaid things can now be said. That includes that it will be more like to speak against minorities in Europe, including Muslim traditions and opinions. Yes, maybe some will even begin to say that women and men are not equal after all! And we can again use religion to justify injustice, although religion is not meant to be used like that. Take the wrong traditions in society endorsed by the Christian Church, indeed in the Catholic denomination, where women still do not have the same rights as men – and, yes, in Muslim societies – but they are secular traditions.

Saabye Christensen’s contribution to public debate is important, yet, it he is both demanding and risky, maybe he is a bit naïve, even intolerant. In his ‘ideal world’ (and mine, too), we demand that everyone analyzes and learns about own values, opinions and traditions, plus that we also study other traditions and cosmologies. I agree we should and must, but will we in practice, and to what degree? And if we only become ‘half-baked’ and think we have become open and tolerant, it is worse than knowing that we don’t know. If we indeed do what the writer says, his warning and advice are helpful, though, and I support it.

My wish for 2016 is that we all focus on learning more about own values and those of others, and that we do it with openness and tolerance. Let us not say that we are the only ones who are right, and that everyone else is wrong. True, we can become so tolerant and open that it becomes meaningless, and that we become nihilistic, saying that nothing is better than something else. But we shouldn’t always make hierarchies. I believe that all religions are equal. I believe that all human beings are equal. Let us all respect each other. Yet, let us also defend own values and listen to others – the way Saabye Christensen actually began doing in the schoolyard. Is that a contradiction?

No, not at all, but it may be demanding and humbling.

Happy New Year 2016