We are not born tolerant, but must learn to be tolerant

09Nov 2016
The Guardian
We are not born tolerant, but must learn to be tolerant

THE United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) will celebrate November 16, 2016 as the annual International Day for Tolerance.

The date goes back to November, 16 in 1995 when 185 member states of the UNESCO signed the declaration of the principles of tolerance. The International Day for Tolerance stands for living together peacefully no matter of which cultural or religious background one is.

Tolerance means to accept and respect other people with different lifestyles, ideologies, habits and customs. The concept of tolerance today often refers to the acceptance of an equal status for any human being on our planet. It bases on values like human rights and fundamental freedom for the individual.

Political tolerance is the willingness to extend basic rights and civil liberties to persons and groups whose viewpoints differ from one's own. It is a central tenet of a liberal democracy. The individual rights and freedoms that citizens value encourage a wide array of ideas and beliefs, some of which may offend segments of the population.

The expression of those beliefs is protected by another core democratic principle, that of majority rule with respect for the rights of individuals or groups in the minority. Without safeguards for the free expression of divergent opinions, we risk a tyranny of the majority.

In a free and open society, public deliberation exposes ‘bad’ ideas instead of suppressing them. The protection of individuals' rights includes those of individuals we dislike or with whom we strongly disagree.

Taking a tolerant stance is one of the more difficult tasks citizens face in a society. We are not born tolerant but must learn to be tolerant. Adolescence is potentially a very important time for the development of political tolerance because during this period, most young people are developing the capacity to apply abstract principles to concrete situations, they have a heightened curiosity about social and political issues, and they are keenly interested in their increasing rights and responsibilities as young adults.

Social studies educators are charged with developing an enlightened citizenry. Enlightened citizens do more than "lip-synch to the tune of democracy." Enlightened citizens understand the role of tolerance in a democratic society.

The individual rights and freedoms that a culture of political tolerance affords its citizens encourages people to think for themselves without being afraid of intimidation, even if their opinions offend sections of the population. In Tanzania the expression of these beliefs is protected by one of our core democratic tools, the Constitution.

By allowing people to freely voice their political opinions, political tolerance also exposes those political ideas to criticism. Instead, if they were suppressed the majority of the population would not be able to give their evaluation on the ideas.

Unfortunately we as humans are not born absolutely tolerant, but must learn to be tolerant. In a non-political context, when we are younger and play a game with other children who play it differently to us, depending on what we are taught, we will be tolerant of the other child.

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