ACCEPTANCE OR TOLERANCE: THE CHALLENGE FROM TRADITIONAL RELIGION FOR LEADERS AND SOCIETY
Acceptance and tolerance are closely related words that sum up attitudes of many leaders and of interactions within the society, especially at contacts or overlaps of religion. This paper makes bold to say that there is always a serious discrepancy between what is held as theoretical ideals by many prominent leaders, societies and even world religions and the day-to-day living relationships of these entities. It is noted that tolerance is often advocated but it has always broken down with time especially within the Nigerian society. This paper therefore advocates acceptance as a better alternative to tolerance. This acceptance, it is again noted, is found in Traditional Religion, hence other religious leaders in general and the society at large must just come, with humility, to learn this lesson from Traditional Religion.
II. The Concepts within Acceptance
According to Webster's Dictionary1, acceptance is to be treated with favour, to be given favourable reception. It is the quality or state of being received with approval. It is an agreement either expressly, or by conduct, to the act or offer of another so that a contract is concluded and the parties become legally bound. Acceptance, to a point, is meeting of minds.2
In other words, the concepts within acceptance include receiving something with consent, giving assent to receipt, and giving admittance to the other person or view. Acceptance includes taking without protest the other person’s position or view, enduring and tolerating with patience a different position, regarding as proper, suitable or normal to them the position of others and giving acknowledgement, recognition as appropriate, permissible or inevitable the personal claims and beliefs of others. Acceptance is to agree to, to regard and hold as true, and to grant a position of belief that is claimed to the claimant. It is to make an affirmative response to a different belief position. Acceptance is to undertake the responsibility of the other person honestly as the person’s responsibility.
In technical parlance, acceptance is to allow on to a particular section of a line under local control. Even as in sexual terms, acceptance is to be sexually responsible as to allow mounting and copulating as in female domestic mammals.3 Acceptance could thus be said to be the receiving of something offered favourably. The leadership within any society must be ready to recognise and accept these concepts of acceptance as working ideals, goals and wanted relationship.
Tolerance is a relational situation where one body is just putting up with another body. It is just a fair, moderate, bearable habitation. It is not that one is really happy with the other. No one is inclined to interfere with the other. It is a trial of forbearing and broad-mindedness.4
Tolerance has a very short limit however. Tolerance is not deep rooted in the heart of the relational operators, be it leaders or whatever in any society where it is the operative model. What tolerance really says is that if I have my way, I would rather do without you. Since I do not, and may not or really cannot have my way, then, I have to bear you. This is an unfortunate, unpleasant, but often the unavoidable reality of the relationship within many societies. This is so because it is the situation between rival parties where both are competing for the same object. In religious parlance, it is the relationship between many denominational Christians to other denominational Christians and mainly between Muslims and Christians in general. This is equally the operational reality within most leaders in many societies.
Tolerance, it must be noted, is not agreement. It is largely a forced co-existence. Tolerance is not love; rather it is some kind of vague recognition and co-habitation. This is why it breaks down, many times, very violently, on virtually very insignificant issues, and at the slightest opportunity.
The Nigerian experiences of religious crises exemplify the fragile nature of tolerance as a relational model. The many crises in the Northern Nigeria over religious matters are demonstrations of the breaking points of tolerance as a relational principle. The crises also demonstrate the true position of the leaders within the societies where the crises are potent. The crises within the Muslim sectors-Maitasines and other Muslims versus Christians, as witnessed in many recent years are lingering and hunting realities that show the permissive scope of tolerance as a relational ideology.
That tolerance breaks down completely at the point of theological particularity of salvation, evangelism and judgement must be an issue for the leaders of the society. Any religion that believes in its theological core that his/hers is the only one saved, others are surely condemned and possibly going to some kind of destruction – be it hell fire or Hades - can not really tolerate others. Any tolerance subscribed to by such a body is only a lip service. The lip-service attitude explains the lack of peace within the religious domain of most of our present world and within most of the leadership of the world society. Tracing the failure of tolerance as a relational ideology in our world is like attempting to sum up the entire world’s religious encounters in a word - intolerance.
It will suffice to say here that tolerance is what most of the world leaders and societies subscribe to. In other word, it is religious tolerance that is proclaimed across the world today even though it is much of lip service. The many religious wars in the world today nailed the coffin of failure of tolerance as adequate ideology for religious relationship, and this should be seen as the challenge to the world leaders.
Religion is often regarded as the human quest for God. It is partially the search for, or response to God, god, Gods, gods, GOD and/or GODS by man. The quest called religion is designed, directed, delivered, diverted and derailed by man himself in terms of its content, form and practice.
The exercise of listing all the possible definitions of religion is not the goal of this paper. The exercise has been done by too many writers the world over.5 It could be said here that religion includes reverence, piety, the personal commitment to and serving of God, god, gods, Gods, GOD and/or GODS with worshipful devotion. It includes conduct in accord with divine commands. It also includes a system or systems of faith and worship in its many faces such as the spiritual, organizational and financial. It is a personal awareness or conviction of the existence of a Supreme Being or of Supreme Beings or of supernatural powers or influence controlling one's humanity and nature of destiny. Religion is a cause, a principle or a system of tenets held with adoration, devotion, conscientiousness and faith. It is a value of supreme importance in life, death and beyond.6
It must be stated that many people in the practice of religion are just religionary; that is, their vocation is religion while others are religioner or religionist. The religionist is earnestly devoted and attached to religion. In a sense the religionist could almost be regarded as a zealot or a fanatic. In another way, some people can be called “religiouse” excessively, obstructively or sentimentally religious.7 Leadership within the religious societies are often best described by these words to varying degrees.
The effect here is to attempt a definition of religion as to cover the possible spectrum of religious exposure and experiences. I have attempted to sum it up thus: religion means a three point issue or phenomenon A, B and C, where A is related to C through B. A is a person or being, B is a form of relation like belief, conduct, faith, trust etc. and C is a super being, God or god.
Figure 1: Defining Religion in Configuration.
In other words religion is A function B to C.8 The signs used are of no full geometric identity. In terms of the leadership, it could be the manipulators of the system to some kind of advantage or achievement.
Leadership is the art of managing the nature of man – be it physical, religious or other natures. Leadership is the power to direct, motivate and inspire others. It is the art of moulding, correcting, influencing or guiding human behaviour towards desired or designed goals or end. Leadership therefore calls for obedience from the followers, while the leader earns the people’s confidence, respect and submission.
Struggle for leadership is a common but often unhealthy procedure in the making and selection of leaders, and this logically leads to the types of leaders thus provided. Leaders are expected to develop their people and society. Experience within Nigeria has however shown that leadership have been of all kinds that include the weak, unprincipled, selfish, autocratic, dictatorial and the power drunk. Democracy has been advocated but leaders are often more despotic or totalitarian than humane.
Leaders have been known to play God to people as in many theocratic governments while others become feudal lords amassing –really grabbing – land, money and all. This is a bane of the system. It is against the spirit of leadership that is here found in Àkòdì.
VI. Àkòdì in Yorùbá Community: An Illustration of Religion, Acceptance, Leadership and Society
Àkòdì9 is a Yorùbá word that depicts a people’s practical living of total acceptance. The word in itself does not seems to be much until the concept it stands for it adequately examined and exposed. This is therefore an attempt to show the concepts embedded within the Àkòdì system and to recommend the principle of total acceptance that is stands for as a necessary and possible in-road to a better understanding of religion, leadership, society and hence to world peace. In order to reveal the deep concept that Àkòdì contains, the word is here discussed in stages. The first stage defines the word and describes the physical structure of the Àkòdì. The second stage looks at the sociology of the people living in the Àkòdì. This is the society. Here the composition of the people, their political setting, the economic setting, and the religious setting are examined. The third state evaluates the Àkòdì crisis management principle and establishes the relationship between the survival of one and the survival of all. Stage four is the conclusion and it shows that survival stands for acceptance, for peace and for continuity. In other words, for the arrival of the leaders, the society and religion, acceptance must be the operative principle of connectivity.
B Definition of Àkòdì
Àkòdì is a Yorùbá word that has etymological definition as well as a concept representation definition. Etymologically, Àkòdì is a combination of five alphabets – three vowels A, O, I, and two consonants K and D. The word Àkòdì could be broken into “Ak?” and “Odi”. Ak? means “hard” or “male” and Odi means wall or boundary. Odi could also mean “deaf” – a deaf person. Àkòdì as a combination of Ak? and Odi is possible and explainable in the sense that the coming together of o – o in Ak? – Odi to give o alone in Àkòdì is a contraction. The vowel contraction at the coming together of two vowels into one is a common phenomenon in Yorùbá language.
From the concept representation point of view, the meanings portrayed by Ako and Odi are all contained in what Àkòdì stands for. The physical structure of Àkòdì and the architectural configuration of Àkòdì show that the concepts represented by the component words Ako and Odi are well grounded in Àkòdì. The conceptual definition of Àkòdì is shown in the following to one degree or the other.
B1 Physical Structure of Àkòdì
The physical structure of Àkòdì is a building of a special type. Like most buildings (if not all buildings), it is made of natural objects. The walls are often built from moulded earth and the roof is often of thatch leaves or, recently, pans with woods as rafter. All the materials are hard and in a sense could be regarded as “Ak? nkan” – translated “Hard Materials”. There is the view that “A kì í fi kan y?p?r? kólé, Ohun tí ó le ni a fi nkó ilé”; translated: “People do not use soft or cheap things in building. Rather people use hard, tough and lasting things – objects in building”.
Thus Àkòdì as a building must be tough, and sturdy as to be able to stand the strain of weather and the test of time. As an analogy, the Àkòdì in this respect will recognise toughness, sturdy qualities as needed principle, traits that should be found in leaders in the society.
B2 Architectural configuration of Àkòdì
A study of the ground plan drawing of the Àkòdì shows the first concept of oneness. The Àkòdì is usually a concentric rectangular setting. At the corner is the head of the setting and the apartment is called Káà Baálé, translated “The court of the head Father.” This is the leader in Àkòdì. There is usually another court called “Káà Baálé kékeré” translated as the “court of the second in command,” or “of the small father.” There is usually a main door passage in the compound. There is always a veranda passage that runs round the inner side of the rectangle. The open court is for evening social gatherings especially by age groups. The children are usually in a corner having moonlight plays and stories, while the women are busy with usual domestic core. The young men are often relaxing over palm wine while the elders are usually busy with issues and decisions affecting the Àkòdì as a whole. This illustrates the society with the many organisational levels, functions and responsibilities.
The configuration of the Àkòdì is usually on a flat terrain that allows the compound to be assessable to all. Expansion of the compound is always made in such a way as to keep the rectangular shape of the Àkòdì. Modern or Western pattern of buildings – be it flats, face to face or condominium are very different from the unique, simple yet fully functionally comprehensive structure called Àkòdì. Of more particular highlight is the composition of the people in the Àkòdì however.
B3 Composition of People in the Àkòdì
One Àkòdì normally occupies all the members in a family clan. The good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, the lazy, the hard working, the super lazy drone and the workaholic all live together in the same Àkòdì. Even the mad – insane, lunatic – person is accommodated in the Àkòdì. This possibly explains the existence of the saying in Yorùbá: “T’orí wèrè ìta ni a se ní wèrè ilé”; translated: “It is because of the mad man (or bad man) outside that you keep or have mad man (bad man) inside”
Thus in the Àkòdì all kinds of people are fully accommodated, known, noted and accepted for what ever the individual is and encouraged to fulfil his/herself as best in the common interest of all within the Àkòdì. The lazy man, while often rebuked is still accommodated in the Àkòdì. The saying “?gbón inú olè ni olè nje”, translated “It is the cleverness or cunningness of the lazy man that he is eating – living on” shows the level of acceptance or at the least toleration given to even the lazy person. This is a full graphic picture of what the society is and should be. Everyone should be contributing to the survival of the society.
The only person that is not tolerated in the Àkòdì is the thief. Stealing is abhorred within the Àkòdì. Within children, pilfering is punished and discouraged in many ways. By the time a young person becomes a full professional thief such a person is either killed or exiled from the Àkòdì for life. The modern society should therefore abhor corruption and such other vices.
In the Àkòdì the aged, the just born babe and all in the different grades and levels of life live together. The organization is such that there is a family clan head -usually a man, and all men in the Àkòdì are responsible to him. There is equally a head mother - an old woman to whom all the women are responsible. Duties like filling the water-pot in the quadrangle with water is the responsibility of the young women and girls in the Àkòdì under the monitoring of the head woman. The division of labour is acceptable to all.
Within the Àkòdì there are all sorts of family relationships that include father, mother, children, uncles, cousins, half brothers, half sisters and such like. All the relationships in the male domain could be summed up as “Ègbón or Àbúrò” meaning “senior brother” or “junior brother” as the whole clan is regarded as just a family.
In essence, the composition within the Àkòdì is based on acceptance by all for all, as well as of the individual by the individual. Even when strangers have to live in the Àkòdì, such persons are integrated and accepted into the Àkòdì by the one and by the all. Apart from the composition of the people in the Àkòdì the economic and religious setting within the Àkòdì equally point to the philosophy of acceptance as the principle of survival of all. In essence the leadership is fully accepted by the followership, all contribute their best to the society – the Àkòdì, and all relate in full acceptance for survival.
B4 Economic and Religious Setting within the Àkòdì
The economic principle of the ancient Àkòdì is based on practical survival principles. Selfishness is abhorred while hard work is encouraged, praised and recommended. Economic interests include full gainful employment, mainly farming. This is supplemented by the clan’s needs hence jobs like “Àgbède” – the smith, “Àyàn” the drummers, “?jà” market and such like are in the Àkòdì. Ostentatious life styles are not common in the Àkòdì as the survival of all is the survival of the individual.
The religious setting in the Àkòdì is totally absorbed in the entire activity of the Àkòdì. As rightly put by Idowu about the Yorùbá – “In all things, they are religious. Religion forms the foundation and the all-governing principle of life for them.”10 Thus in the Àkòdì religion penetrates all of the people’s live – economic or otherwise.
There are periodic religious festive celebrations like “?dún Ìj?su” – new yam eating festival, “Ìkórè” – harvest, and such others. There are also local prescribed religious celebrations or sacrifice given to individuals often by the Baba awo – the Chief priest. All such festivals and celebrations are done in the spirit of survival for the all and the one in the Àkòdì. This then leads to the need to evaluate the Àkòdì crisis management principle and hence establish the survival of all as the survival of one.
C. Evaluation of Àkòdì Crisis Management Principles
The Àkòdì has its crisis. The crisis includes defending the clan against outside aggressions as well as solving internal misunderstandings and problems.
The main management principle used in the Àkòdì is that of acceptance, there by, making maximum use of the one and the all. The Àkòdì depends on every one in the system to contribute his/her best to the survival of the system. The Àkòdì accepts the best of each person. The single water pot illustrates in very clear terms that “we either all survive together or we all die together”. In the days of old, the identity of the one was the identity of the Àkòdì and clan. What one has is what all have. Individual possessiveness was not the practice. This was properly illustrated in the days of the rediffusion. Only one was in the Àkòdì, and the one was put in the open square under the tree. No one stole it. Crisis of information, up dating, projection and decision in direction, were all solved collectively – often by the elders.
The principles thus called into play include:
(i) knowing that the survival of all is the survival of the one
(ii) knowing that if the Àkòdì or community does not survive no individual in the Àkòdì or community will survive.
(iii) acceptance is the clue to solving all problems in the Àkòdì.
This is illustrated in the saying “Baba tí kò b’ínú ni omo rè npò” meaning “It is the father that is not angry that has many children” – in other words, it is the father that is tolerant, that accepts all that has a large Àkòdì. In this sense many children or large Àkòdì implies strength, confidence and unity. These are the crisis management principles involved in the life of the Àkòdì.
D. Conclusion of the Àkòdì in Yorùbá Community
It can now be said that Àkòdì is a comprehensive concept that illustrates acceptance as the main survival strategy. It is the acceptance that generates peace. It also guarantees continuity of the community and of the society. This is illustrative of Yorùbá Traditional religion and of the leadership. The acceptance that is fond in Yorùbá community is principled and firmly rooted in the Yorùbá traditional religion. It is not a case of tolerance. It is a straight case of sincere acceptance for the good of all in the society.
VII. The Challenge
Àkòdì could be a symbolic representation of the world – really of religion, leaders and the society. Finding peace is the main task of all in the world and of religions in particular. Traditional community – societies - hence traditional religion has demonstrated unrestrained acceptance. All hypocrisies must therefore be dropped by other religions and settings advocating tolerance. The main challenge from traditional religion to others – leaders and society - is that acceptance of one by the other must be embraced by all. Leaders and followers must accept themselves and both of them must combine their efforts in forging the society to desired height.
1. Gove, P.R. (Ed.) Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language unabridged. G & C Merriam Company, Springfield, U.S.A., 1976, Vol. 1, p. 11.
4. Ibid. Vol. II p. 2405.
5. C.G. Berry, Religions of the World. Barnes and Noble Inc. N.Y. 1964, Idowu, B. African Traditional Religion: A Definition, SCM Press Ltd., London, 1976 and Awolalu J.O. Yorùbá Beliefs and Sacrificial Rites, Longman, London, 1979 are some of the many books that have relevant sections on definitions of religion.
6. P.B. Grove, (Ed), Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, G & C Merriam Company, Springfield, U.S.A. 1971, Vol. II, P. 1918b.
7. E. Dada. Adelowo, Homo Religious: A Man Who holds his own in all circumstances, Text of the Second Inaugural Lecture, Ondo State University, Centre for Research and Development, Ado-Èkìtì, Nigeria. 1995, p. 3.
8. This is Jemiriye’s definition that attempts to simplify the many long-winded expressions called definition of religion.
9. This section on Àkòdì is a reworking of a paper presented at a Conference of the Nigerian Association for the Study of Religions (NASR) 5th – 9th November 2000 at Ado-Èkìtì. It is noted that Àkòdì represents religion, society and its leaders. As well emphasised by Bolaji Idowu and others that “… in all things they are religious,” (cf endnote 10 below). The illustrative connection of Àkòdì to religion, leadership and society becomes easy to see.
10. Idowu, E. B. Olódùmarè: God in Yoruba Belief, Longmans, 1975, p. 5.
For a list of other Dr. Jemiriye's Seminar Papers, click on this link: Seminar Papers