It’s easy to become intolerant of people who are different. Their difference questions our identity. Pack enough emotion into the equation, and it’s easy to see why people become fearful of and violent with each other. But getting to know people as individuals can turn this around. We can learn not only to tolerate but to celebrate diversity.
In a world that thrives on competition and dominance in every domain, including business, politics, athletics, and religion, it may surprise you to learn that tolerance is an even more universally held value by the world’s religions and cultures. Although extremists of every ilk have long sought to assert their supremacy, through both persuasion and compulsion, the world’s religions and cultures speak more to the celebration of diversity than to its condemnation.
The 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions and cultures incorporated this into the third commitment of their Proclamation. “When people stir up prejudice, hatred, and enmity towards others,” they agreed, “even to the point of inciting or legitimating religious wars, they deserve the condemnation of humankind and the loss of their adherents.”
Now those are strong words! But given the pogroms that have taken place in the name of religion over the millennia, and given the current state of world affairs, those words point to an increasingly important basis upon which to build our core values. The tolerance, if not the celebration, of diversity would make the world a better place for one and all.
Unfortunately, tolerance is in increasingly short supply. In the United States of America, a country founded with a Bill of Rights and a proud tradition of tolerance, hate crimes are committed on an hourly basis by individuals and organized groups. According to Tolerance.org Click, every day at least 8 blacks, 3 whites, 3 gays, 3 Jews, and 1 Latino become hate crime victims. Around the world, the picture is just as bad and often worse. There is a wide gap between legal protection and heartfelt tolerance.
For those who make tolerance a part of their core values, Tolerance.org suggests 10 ways to close the gap:
- “Act. Do something. In the face of hatred, apathy will be interpreted as acceptance • by the haters, the public and, worse, the victim. Act in ways that promote decency in all human interactions, otherwise hate invariably persists.
- Unite. Call a friend or coworker. Organize a group of allies from churches, schools, clubs and other civic sources. Create a diverse coalition. Include children, police and the media. Gather ideas from everyone, and get everyone involved.
- Support the Victims. Hate-crime victims are especially vulnerable, fearful and alone. Let them know you care. Surround them with people they feel comfortable with. If you’re a victim, report every incident and ask for help.
- Do Your Homework. Determine if a hate group is involved, and research its symbols and agenda. Seek advice from anti-hate organizations. Accurate information can then be spread to the community.
- Create an Alternative. Do NOT attend a hate rally. Find another outlet for anger and frustration and people’s desire to do something. Hold a unity rally or parade. Find a news hook, like a ‘hate-free zone.’
- Speak Up. You, too, have First Amendment rights. Hate must be exposed and denounced. Buy an ad. Help news organizations achieve balance and depth. Do not debate hate mongers in conflict-driven talk shows.
- Lobby Leaders. Persuade politicians, business and community leaders to take a stand against hate. Early action creates a positive reputation for the community, while unanswered hate will eventually be bad for business.
- Look Long Range. Create a ‘bias response’ team. Hold annual events, such as a parade or culture fair, to celebrate your community’s diversity and harmony. Build something the community needs. Create a Web site.
- Teach Tolerance. Bias is learned early, usually at home. But children from different cultures can be influenced by school programs and curricula. Sponsor an ‘I have a dream’ contest. Target youths who may be tempted by skinheads or other hate groups.
- Dig Deeper. Look into issues that divide us: economic inequality, immigration, homosexuality. Work against discrimination in housing, employment, education. Look inside yourself for prejudices and stereotypes.”
Of the 10 suggestions, the last one can be at once the most formidable and the most transformational. To move from legal protection to heartfelt tolerance, we have to deal with our own ghosts and fears.
Perhaps we, or someone we know, have had a negative experience with someone who is different from us. They may be from a different race, culture, religion, gender, orientation, or economic class. And that one experience, passed around from one person to the next, forms the basis for generations of bias, discrimination, and even violence.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. By making tolerance a core value, we can shift both ourselves and our communities to be more positive and inclusive.
Mati Milstein wrote an excellent article* recently Click describing how this worked for him, an American Jew who emigrated to Israel in 1998. “The geography of fear is everywhere,” he notes, “everywhere you fear something bad might happen to you. It is everywhere you find people different than you, people you don’t know or understand. People who look differently, dress differently, pray differently, think differently.”
“It is created by ignorance, blindness and years of societal conditioning. And it is strengthened and reinforced when people do not communicate. Each and every one of us • no matter how enlightened, no matter how liberal • also has an internal geography of fear. It is this internal geography that causes us to cross the street when we see certain people coming, that makes us suspect horrible things about people we have never actually met.”
For Milstein, that geography is set in the context of the Israeli • Palestinian conflict. “And I have found only one truly effective method,” he writes, “to attempt to overcome my own unfounded prejudices and preconceptions: get in a car and head right into the heart of these black spots on my internal map.”
So that is what he does. He drives, both literally and figuratively, to a point of deeper relationship with those who are different. By getting to know different people as individuals, with names, families, and common values, he moves beyond the caricature to the character of those who others call the enemy.
In this way, he concludes, “my personal geography of fear may dim. It may well never fully disappear. I may never be able to get rid of all the prejudices and preconceptions I have inside me. But I can learn how to recognize them and deal with them, maybe even use them to my advantage, build something good around them. My fear can be a useful tool.”
That is an example of digging deeper in order to cultivate tolerance. And I have seen that work on countless occasions. People who had written off entire groups of people become their champions through the transformational effect of getting to know solitary individuals.
Consider your own circle of friends. It’s not too late to increase its diversity. Doing so is a great way to change the world, one person at a time.
Coaching Inquiries: When you dig deep, what do you find? Are you tolerant or belligerent? What would it take to develop a relationship with someone who is different from you, perhaps even fearsome or offensive to you?
* Remapping the Geography of Fear Click by Mati Milstein. Mr. Milstein has lived in Israel since 1998. Upon completing service in the IDF, he began covering stories in Israel and the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories for Israeli and foreign media outlets. The quotes from this article (• 2004 by The New Mexico Jewish Link http://www.nmjewishlink.com and by The Jewish Telegraphic Agency) are used with permission. Mr. Milstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
I have read most of Provision #359, Pursue Justice Click. I cannot continue until I took a moment and commented on the opening lines. I agree with you that Jesus and Justice are basically one and the same. The example given suggested that you think people who pursue Jesus was in conflict with those in pursuit of justice. I cannot understand why. (Ed. Note: Different people have different ideas of what makes for justice, e.g., Individual vs. Systemic Reforms. My guess is that the person with the “Jesus” bumper sticker is focused more on individual reforms while the one with the “Justice” bumper sticker is focused more on systemic reforms.)
Another great Provision! And the information on Cinnamon is interesting. I think I will give it a try 🙂
Just wanted to let you know…each morning I drink about an eighth cup of vinegar…I now have added a teaspoon of Cinnamon mixed with this. It is great! The taste is pretty darn good. Thanks for the information.
Amen, to your last Provision! Justice and cinnamon • what a team.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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