International Day for Tolerance

Below is a piece written by our Executive Director Bill Holston, commemorating the International Day of Tolerance.

Today is the International Day of Tolerance. In 1995, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the founding of UNESCO, the United Nations adopted a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance. The Declaration establishes that tolerance is “neither an indulgence nor indifference. It is respect and appreciation of the rich variety of the world’s cultures.” This is appropriate as one of the initial goals stated in the Preamble of its charter was “to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours.”

As the world’s nations contemplated the aftermath of the Holocaust, it turned its attention to principles which would govern all governments and address the intolerance of cultures that led to the attempt to extinguish entire communities of people. The Nazi’s targeted Jews, Gypsies, Poles, homosexuals and many other groups. One need only read any of the vast literature describing the Holocaust to realize the unbelievable horror that this intolerance bred.

The United States has not been free of this bigotry. I was born in Mobile Alabama in 1956. This was the year that the Montgomery Bus boycott ended. It was a time where the deep south of the United States was completely racially segregated. My neighborhood, church, and school were all white. I was not immune from this. I grew up in a thoroughly racist home. Racial epithets were common in my childhood. I am embarrassed by this of course. I was brought up to believe that African Americans were lesser than me. This all changed for me because of Boy Scouts. As I became friends with boys my age from another race, I realized that how I was raised was ignorant. I realized that the thing separating us was not our culture, but my own bigotry. It was a revolution in my own life, and it altered how I raised my family.

I am the father of two sons. They were raised much differently than I was. They were raised to respect and value every human being. They have lived in the world that Dr. Martin Luther King dreamed about, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Much has changed in the 56 years of my life. We’ve seen the election of an African American President. My neighborhood, church and work place are all quite diverse. Yet, much remains the same. Bigotry still defines much of the world. We here at HRI see the impact of this every day. We see Coptic Christians from Egypt fleeing indiscriminate violence. We see homosexuals fleeing violence and prejudice from countries where their orientation is a crime. We see people who are the targets of violence in the nature of female genital mutilation simply because they were born a woman. We see many clients fleeing the ethnically divided region of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda. The quest for equality also is not ended here in America. Gays struggle for equality. Muslim Americans are the targets of hate crime. Racially charged rhetoric still spews across the internet.

It is not just at the international level that tolerance is needed. It’s needed in each of our lives as individuals. In 1995, the UN established the Madanjeet Singh Prize for the promotion of Tolerance and Non Violence. The prize is awarded every two years on the International day of Tolerance. In 2000, the Prize was awarded to His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the Holy Apostolic See of St. Mark the Evangelist. During his acceptance speech he said, “There is a way you can overcome your enemy, it is by changing him your enemy into a friend, we need to win friends everywhere…do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Gentleness and meekness are needed to have peace.”

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