The International Day for Tolerance has been observed annually on this day since 1995 to generate public awareness of the dangers of intolerance. The UN General Assemblyproclaimed 1995 as the United Nations Year for Tolerance with UNESCO as the lead organization.
The idea and practice of tolerance was widely promoted in schools in many member states. Tolerance was held to be an ‘endangered virtue’ in many parts of the world, particularly those who were under racial and religious wars, such as those in Bosnia and Rwanda.
UNESCO suggested that five key planks were required to overcome intolerance: Law, Education, access to information, individual awareness, and local solutions. Thus, tolerance is a political, legal and moral duty to protect and preserve human rights. It seems redundant to have this day and December 10th focus on this self-evident essential priority of human rights but given humanities resistance to placing human rights above the rights of governments there should probably be a few other days devoted to such wisdom.
Long before the UN spiritual leaders and wise nationals have understood the grand need for tolerance of human differences.
George Washington’s letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I. told Jews in our new nation that “The government of the United States…gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance… May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid”.
Washington wasn’t lying. But what he said is yet to be true. Too many Americans remain intolerant of Jewish people as exhibited recently in Pittsburgh. Jews have experienced such intolerance and persecution globally for millennium. But they are not alone. Intolerance of others remains alive and growing within the US in multiple forms as recent FBI statistics indicate a 15% increase just over just the last year.
I’m guessing that the germ of intolerance resides in our human genome. That may explain why Neanderthals are extinct. And, since 1945 and the world said “Never Again” there has been over 15 genocides taking the lives of well over 20 million people. And during each genocide the ruling government and the majority of people stood by and did nothing or participated.
November 16th offers us one more day to seriously examine the costs of global intolerance. It would be wise to figure out why some people still harbor intolerance for minor tribal, political, national, or genetic differences. It may be in our DNA but that doesn’t mean it justifies murder or mass murder.
There are things we can do to prevent it. The idea of civilization is to overcome our worse instincts. To squash the brutality of too much freedom or democracy. We must act globally, or the costs could be catastrophic to entire human genome types. Shockingly dangerous is the fact that the evolution of biotechnology is now capable of yielding biogenetic weapons capable of targeting specific gene profiles with global ultra-genocide capacity.
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But there’s another form of intolerance that kills more people than genocide. It’s our intolerance of new and sensible ideas. Our close mindedness. And we are all guilty of it. Too often we are just too tolerant. Like accepting without question the views, beliefs and behaviors of our President or the majority of U.S. policy makers when they pass legislation that allows US weapon sales to Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of billions worth in weapons, targeting information, and bomber refueling – with full knowledge that our tax dollars are paying for these assets — and that they are killing innocent Yemeni men, women and children by the thousands. And even contributing to the literal starvation of millions more. And we tolerate it. Along with environmental policies that we know are heating up our climate and causing a mass extinction of plants, animals and insects. Policies that are tolerant of our government’s intolerance of immigrants and refugees. And, excessively tolerance for our U.S. foreign policy and personal demand for illegal drugs that both yield millions of refugees seeking asylum in our nation and others.
How is it that we remain so tolerant of the persistent injustices that are both within our own so called ‘justice system’ and our so called ‘defense and counter-terrorism policy’ abroad?
A more accurate description of the problem is our selective tolerance. There are certainly things we should never tolerate, like not taking our pledge of allegiance before our flag seriously. Ignoring this pledge breach the moment we remove our right hand from the left side of our chest should be simply intolerable.
Being more tolerant of views we don’t like or understand may be as important now to our civilization as being intolerant of actions (ours and our nations) that are inconsistent with the golden rule.
Use this day (and perhaps every day) to be more selective about what you tolerate and find intolerable.
Our planet, our species and our children’s children depend on it.