No one is born with hate in their heart.
From the earliest moments of life, when a baby reaches for their Mum or Dad, they’re reaching for comfort, for security, for LOVE. As their eyes discover new shapes and colours, and begin to form their vision, a baby is not concerned with the colour of the person interacting with them. Nor does the baby respond only to one language being spoken to them. The baby is innocent and free of judgment.
Prejudicial behaviours toward people unlike ourselves are learned behaviours. The International Day for Tolerance, established in 1996 by the United Nations, aims to foster mutual understanding between cultures and peoples to work toward a more harmonious global society, free of violence and conflict based on our differences.or
Tolerance vs. Acceptance
Some struggle with the word ‘tolerance’ in the context of peace, because who really wants to be ‘tolerated?’ UNESCO created a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance to affirm that ‘tolerance’ in this context is “neither indulgence nor indifference.” It is meant to respect and appreciate our diversity, and recognize human rights and the fundamental freedoms of others.
This isn’t just limited to people of different faiths or races, either. It also applies to women, who are underpaid and subject to greater violence in nearly every country on planet earth. And to LGBTQ citizens, who often experience medical discrimination and face greater economic challenges because of prejudices in the workplace.
How do we get there?
The UN and UNESCO list five key ways to counter intolerance:
Governments need to create and enforce laws that prevent discrimination and acts of violence toward minorities and marginalized groups. But for the governments to take action, the people have to first elect representatives that promote these shared values of peace in diversity.
Much of the hatred toward people who are deemed ‘different’ whether it be due to race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality or otherwise, is rooted in an unjustified fear. This can be caused by a lack of exposure to other cultures, misguided beliefs or false narratives passed down through families or communities. To combat this cycle, establishing programs in schools, workplaces, places of worship and other community settings—to educate people of all ages—could be revolutionary.
3. Information Access
It’s a hot-button topic these days with the advent of ‘fake news,’ but on a large scale, lack of access to true information is what can cause the most harm. When groups or governments limit access to, or censor information, a very specific narrative is derived by the citizens in that social group. If that narrative is damaging to specific people and it prevents those people from thriving or puts them in danger, the effects can be catastrophic. A free press and path to truth is necessary to counter those outcomes.
4. Individual Awareness
Have you ever made an assumption based on a stereotype about someone’s race? Have you ever excluded someone from a conversation or an activity because they weren’t like you in some way? Have you ever forgotten to consider a certain sensitivity surrounding a marginalized group in a social situation? Chances are you may have, yet had no ill intentions. We all need to be aware of how we speak about and treat one another, regardless of our backgrounds.
5. Local Solutions
Though our challenges with intolerance are absolutely a global issue, the initial work to change society must begin in our individual communities. Grassroots networks and collaborative meet-ups can enact real progress when organized in a positive, inclusive way.
The Fun Part
It doesn’t have to feel like ‘homework’ to experience other cultures and learn about the customs of people different from us. Here are a few ways to enjoy it:
Travel to a new place for an eye-opening journey. You don’t even have to leave your country to do so. Why not do something you love in another part of town to get the vibe of a different community? Pay attention to the way the people move, the way they dress, how they interact. Observe, respect and blend in for a bit. Remember what you see and how you feel in their world.
Sample a new cuisine to elevate your palette. Visit a restaurant that serves food from a culture you’re not a part of and try a dish you’ve never heard of—at the very least you’ll try something new. You never know, you may just like it.
Read about a faith or a location you know nothing about. Learn about the customs of the area; attend a worship service or other cultural gathering to see how others come together. Keep an open mind and an open heart, even if your beliefs don’t align.
Absorb art and music from another social group to see the world through their eyes. Pay attention to how they represent their lives through colours and sounds and lyrics. Embrace how different it may be from what you normally consume.
Chances are, doing any or all of the above, you’ll find more similarities than differences to your own life.
A Future of Coexistence
Radical change doesn’t happen overnight. History shows us that progress can be a slow process, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to overcome our differences for the sake of the greater good, as often as we’re able.
With progress, peace is possible.
After all, we started out the same way—as babies, innocently reaching out to love and be loved …