Tag Archives: Tolerance

Complexity Matters

In his book “In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong”, (1996) French-Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf argues that group violence is a consequence of over-simplified “tribal” identities and that its antidote lies in awareness/recognition of self complexity. He notes:

When one sees one’s own identity as made up of a number of allegiances, some linked to an ethnic past and others not, some linked to a religious tradition and others not; when one observes in oneself, in one’s origins and in the course one’s life has taken, a number of different confluences and contributions, of different mixtures and influences, some of them quite subtle or even incompatible with one another; then one enters into a different relationship both with other people and with one’s own “tribe.” It’s no longer a matter of just “them” and “us”. (31)

While Maalouf writes from an anecdotal perspective, recent research by Sonia Roccas and Marilynn Brewer (2002) on social identity complexity lends empirical support to his thesis.

Roccas and Brewer define social identity complexity as the degree of overlap between different elements of one’s identity:

A high degree of overlap means that different elements of one’s identity converge into a coherent whole (low complexity): e.g. a secular liberal who is anti-war, pro-choice, supports gay rights, votes democratic and is environmentally conscious.

A low degree of overlap (high complexity) means that different elements of one’s identity do not easily cohere together: e.g. a religious conservative who is gay, pro-life, proud feminist, has mixture of conservative and liberal friends, watches Bill O’Reilly and John Stewart.

Interestingly, and this is the part that connects to Maalouf’s thesis, what Roccas and Brewer found is that the degree of identity complexity correlates to level of tolerance for out-groups: with higher complexity associated with greater tolerance. This research is in-line with other studies that have shown the pro-social benefits of embracing complexity (Coleman, 2011).

Conflict resolution practitioners would do well in thinking of practices and techniques for increasing people’s awareness of their own identity complexity. Some promising work on identity-based training has been done in this regard (Korostelina, 2007), but the practical potential of this research has yet to be fully realized.

* Also published in ICCCR blog, dedicated to wedding theory, research and practice in the field of conflict resolution.

This Thanksgiving Give Thanks For That Special Non-Jew In Your Life.


As someone of you may know, I am married to a non-Jew. So every now and again, I get asked about the question/problem of intermarriage. Recently, a friend wrote to me that he is concerned about bringing home his non-Jewish girlfriend for the holidays.

So as part of a Thanksgiving special, here is the agnostic Rabbi’s advice:

I hear your concern. Being Jewish is important to you and you do not want to lose that. You want to raise a Jewish family. Fair enough. But I don’t think your apprehension is completely rational. I say this because people like you and I have at least ten Jews inside of them :) If your partner is open to your tradition, then your household will also be Jewish. It may be more than just Jewish – but is will also be Jewish. The key is finding someone who understands and is open to the place of Judaism in your life.

That said, you might have to be open to her traditions as well. Embrace the diversity. With the right approach there is room for all.

But what about the children? I think the argument about children underestimates children’s intelligence. I know people who grew up in a multi-cultural home and they really benefited from the experience. Yes, at some stage in their mental development children see things in black and white, but there is no reason why a Christmas tree and a menorah cannot constitute one category for the child. you see what I am saying?

If the parents do not present the different traditions in an exclusive and confrontational manner than there really should be no major problem. While it is true that outside the home the child will brush-up against different interpretations of his/hers traditions, with a strong and positive multi-cultural foundation he/she will be equipped to handle that. After all, that happens even when you grew up within a singe tradition – a passover at my house is very different than a passover at your house.

In the end, I would say that if you are lucky enough to know love, and if your partner happens to have been raised in another tradition, do not let accident of birth divide you. It really does not get better than love. If you got it: cherish it, nourish it and protect it.

These are my two shekels. Of course I could be wrong. But given my present state of affairs, I sure hope I am right.