When you pause your regular daily routine and your ever-present mental chatter to deeply observe what goes on around you, the wide diversity of your community might surprise you. Sometimes, I like to purposely do this personal exercise as a part of gratitude practice.
At first glance, my small Nebraska community may seem rather more or less monocultural and banal. However, when one peels back the dominant middle-class caucasion façade, we find a great variety of humanity. Just a small sample of the population of Norfolk, Nebraska reveals some members of the original Native Americans to this area, there are people of hispanic ancestry, African descent, Asian families, and many, whose ancestry derived from various European cultures.
Although Nebraska self-identifies as a mostly conservative, traditional area, thankfully, there is a diversity of religious and political opinions, even though those points of view are minority positions. Alongside of our protestant and Roman Catholic majority Christian residents are a sprinkling of Muslims, a few Jews, a community of Hindus, some Buddhists, pagans, first nations followers, plus the usual scattering of closeted agnostics and atheists.
This small Nebraska community has a majority of conventionally partnered heterosexual nuclear families. They are joined by young, single adults who live together as unmarried couples, there are many single-parent family units, unmarried adults living alone, and an almost invisible LGBT community. There is also the usual range of ages from dependent children, adolescents, along with young adults, middleagers, and senior citizens. There are also many differently-abled people.
Our town doesn’t outwardly exhibit strife among the various categories of its residents. Seldom are minority issues debated in the public forum. The rights of indigenous people, minority racial groups, and LGBTs are seldom considered by the majority population. The attitudes remain rather provincial, but there is evidence of improvement.
Because there’s lack of advocacy organizations for many minority populations, the battles against intolerance are mainly personal or one on one. Community outreach towards many minorities is a token effort. In many respects, Norfolk is a microcosm of the nation, at large. Regardless of the nature of your own community, you will discover the diversity of people living around you.
We are invited to explore diversity and the act of tolerance today, by UNESCO. The International Day for Tolerance happens each year on the anniversary of UNESCO’s member states adoption of the “Declaration of Principles on Tolerance”, on November 16, 1995.
The Declaration asserts that tolerance is neither indifference nor indulgence. “It is the appreciation of the rich variety of our World’s cultures, our ways of expression, and ways of being human.” The document states that tolerance is not only a moral issue, but is a legal requirement for individuals, groups, and nations. Tolerance is essential in the area of International Human Rights.
Injustice, violence, discrimination, and marginalization are the most common forms of intolerance. UNESCO states that a capacity for critical thinking and ethical reasoning can help counter cultural influences that promote fear and exclusion of others. Differences are not reasons for conflict. Differences are treasures that enrich all of us.
The Declaration of Principles on Tolerance advocates several ways to counter intolerance:
* Fighting intolerance requires law.
* Fighting intolerance requires education.
* Fighting intolerance requires access to accurate information.
* Fighting intolerance requires individual awareness.
* Fighting intolerance requires local solutions.
I hope you can find a little time to meaningfully celebrate the International Day for Tolerance. This is a small way to help build trust in the diverse communities. Substantial efforts must continue as we respect the rights and happiness of everyone on Earth.
The Blue Jay of Happiness remembers an old definition of a tolerant state of being. “Tolerance is giving to all human beings, without exception, every right and consideration that one seeks for oneself.”