Global call for dignity and respect for all | Daily News

Global call for dignity and respect for all

UNESCO observes the International Day for Tolerance on Saturday, November 16. All over the world it will be a time for people to learn about respecting and recognising the rights and beliefs of others. It will also be a time of reflection and debate on the negative effects of intolerance. Live discussions and debates will take place across diverse borders on this day, focusing on how various forms of injustice, oppression, racism and unfair discrimination have a negative impact on society.

We are all aware that the human family is extremely varied with many different beliefs, cultures and ways of life. Several conflicts in our world are caused when people are intolerant of the ways that others see the world. Learning tolerance is an important cornerstone to creating a better world. If a person is intolerant of other ideas, races, or religions, we call that person a bigot. The intolerance expressed by that bigot is called bigotry. Bigotry is ugly.

There are different types of bigotry — such as religious bigotry or racist bigotry. Although bigotry can mean any form of intolerance or prejudice, when the word is used alone, it is most often understood to mean racial bigotry. What actually is tolerance? Tolerance is the most necessary quality of man. It is one of the conditions of good manners. Intolerance often leads to the worst type of calamities. So, that is why we must place so much importance on tolerance. When we don't know about other cultures, religions or nations we sometimes fear them. Education is the most important way to promote tolerance. Teaching people what our shared rights and freedoms are is the first step in tolerance education. Learning about other cultures is also important to help us see the similarities between all cultures and to respect and celebrate our differences.

Laws are necessary but not sufficient for countering intolerance in individual attitudes. Intolerance is very often rooted in ignorance and fear. It is unfounded fear of the unknown, of other cultures, nations and religions. Intolerance is also closely linked to an exaggerated sense of self-worth and pride, whether personal, national or religious. These notions are taught and learned at an early age. As such, greater emphasis needs to be placed to teach children about tolerance and human rights and about other ways of life. Children should be encouraged at home and in school to be open-minded and curious.

Education is a life-long experience and does not begin or end in school. Endeavours to build tolerance through education will not succeed unless they reach all age groups and take place everywhere. Yes, this means at home, in school, in the workplace, in law-enforcement and legal training and not least in entertainment and on the information highways.

Fighting intolerance basically requires access to information. Intolerance is most dangerous when it is exploited to fulfil the political and territorial ambitions of an individual or groups of individuals. Hate-mongers often begin by identifying the public's tolerance threshold. They then develop fallacious arguments, lie with statistics and manipulate public opinion with misinformation and prejudice. The most efficient way to limit the influence of hate-mongers is to develop policies that generate and promote media freedom and pluralism in order to allow the public to differentiate between facts and bigoted opinions.

Still, fighting intolerance requires individual awareness. Intolerance in a society is the sum-total of the intolerance of its individual members. Bigotry, stereotyping, stigmatising, insults and racial jokes are examples of individual expressions of intolerance to which some people are subjected to daily. Intolerance breeds intolerance. It leaves its victims in pursuit of revenge. In order to fight intolerance individuals should become aware of the link between their behaviour and the vicious cycle of mistrust and violence in society. Each one of us should do some soul-searching in this sphere and begin by asking ourselves: “Am I a tolerant person? Do I stereotype people? Do I reject those who are different from me? Do I blame my problems on them?”

Yet, fighting intolerance requires local solutions. Many people know that tomorrow's problems will be increasingly global but few realise that solutions to global problems are mainly local, even individual. When confronted with an escalation of intolerance around us, we must not wait for governments and institutions to act alone. We are all part of the solution. We should not feel powerless for we actually possess an enormous capacity to wield power. Nonviolent action is a way of using that power - the power of people. Among the tools of nonviolent action are putting a group together to confront a problem, to organise a grassroots network, to demonstrate solidarity with victims of intolerance. Also ways to discredit hateful propaganda are available to all those who want to put an end to intolerance, violence, bigotry and hatred.

UNESCO's Declaration of Principles on Tolerance defines tolerance as ‘respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being humane. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication, and freedom of thought, conscience and belief.’ Tolerance, in other words could be called harmony in difference. That is not to say that fighting intolerance would be a cakewalk for even the most devoted towards this task. Building tolerance and trust in diverse communities takes time and commitment. Tolerance Day is an opportunity to see what progress has been made throughout the year and rededicate our commitment to promoting acceptance, respect, cooperation and dialogue between different cultures in our communities and between nations. It leads us to respect cultural diversity, ways of life and expressions of our own humanity. It is a necessary condition for peace and progress for all people in a diversified and ever-more connected world. In a globalized world, home to people from many cultures and backgrounds and flooded with pictures and information about other peoples, tolerance is the cornerstone of sustainable citizenship. In addition, it teaches that a person’s racial or religious background is inconsequential to the potential for tolerance and friendship between them.

Along with outright injustice and violence, discrimination and marginalisation are common forms of intolerance. Education for tolerance should aim at countering influences that lead to fear and exclusion of others and should help young people develop capacities for independent judgement, critical thinking and ethical reasoning. The diversity of our world's many religions, languages, cultures and ethnicities is not a pretext for conflict, but is a treasure that enriches us all.

History reminds us of the massive human toll taken when hatred and bigotry rear their ugly heads and go unchallenged or infect and persist within society. The same history, however, also gives us many examples of heroic and principled efforts to build and sustain human progress – achieved through the inspiring bravery and resolve of many in generations before.

Embracing diversity and having no tolerance for bigotry just needs to happen in all sectors of the world for racism to ever be a thing of the past.

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