People are naturally diverse, hence only tolerance can ensure the survival of mixed communities in every region of the globe, according to the United Nations as it today, November 16, observes the International Day for Tolerance.
In its 1995 Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, tolerance “is neither indulgence nor indifference – it is respect and appreciation of the rich variety of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human”.
Here in The Bahamas, intolerance is among factors at the core of long-standing conflicts, divisions and actions that disregard another’s humanity and is often rooted in fear, insecurities and lack of information.
Many of us are unwilling to tolerate viewpoints, affiliations or lifestyle choices that differ from our own, and even among those who share the same affiliations, intolerance abounds if one dares to hold or express a differing idea.
In the home, children learn intolerance in their earliest years as cultural norms relegate the voice, opinions and feelings of children to a place where their expressions are often not tolerated or forced into submission.
In our schools, these same children whose humanity has been caged at home take intolerance of individuality to the classroom where they behave cruelly toward other children who look or act in ways they do not like or do not understand.
As adults, we deign to behave rationally and respectfully toward those whose religious beliefs, political support or personal expressions of individualism do not match ours or our ideals.
In the country’s major political parties today, members who within the confines of their organization offer opposing views that may run counter to the party line or the pleasure of leadership can be subject to vilification and be blocked from advancement.
And in many of our churches and dogmas, everyone must sing the same tune and hold the same beliefs else an errant parishioner and believer runs the risk of being condemned to eternal damnation.
We simply have a hard time being willing to live and let live, which is essentially what tolerance is all about.
Conversely, there is a growing trend of seeking to equate tolerance with acceptance, though the two are not the same, and this trend often has the effect of sparking social backlashes at a time when there is a need to work on promoting understanding and education about the things that make us different.
Being tolerant does not necessarily mean one must consider a certain belief or lawful personal expression to be okay.
Indeed, one can be tolerant of a matter without being accepting of it, though to have both is often the desired scenario.
People are naturally diverse and equally so are their beliefs, which is why it is not a reasonable or tolerant position to insist that we all must be accepting of the same things in order for any one of us to be worthy of regard.
Being tolerant is being willing to allow an individual to be who one is and believe what one wishes without seeking to hurt or cause harm to come to that individual – even if you do not like his or her perspective or lawful lifestyle choices.
Promoting tolerance is about promoting a behavioral adjustment that leads to us giving one another space to be, without making someone feel less than human because of one’s state of being.
We do not all have to agree and we do not all have to consider the same things to be “right”, but if we are to survive as a people we do need to learn to respect each other’s differences with a view to learning more about one another.
The UN recommends that intolerance be countered through legislation, education, access to information, individual awareness and community solutions.
May we find our way to increasing the level of tolerance in our society.