Author: Lilian Kiefer, November 15 2014 - Every person has their own sphere of influence, within which they can choose to build or destroy society. Within our spheres of influence, we impart our ways of thinking, be it positive or negative. Most of the time, we unconsciously influence people to see the world through our eyes, imparting our prejudices and stereotypes.
It is in this way that intolerance of any form actually gets transferred and shared with others. Without realising it, people share their negative feelings towards other religions, thereby influencing intolerance towards those ‘other’ religions. Without realising, people share their negative opinions about other races and advance negativity towards other races.
It is common to hear people make blanket statements about people from certain tribes. Most of these statements are usually unfounded. Without realising it, people share their negative opinions and perpetuate negativity towards certain tribes. The list goes on to include social status, political affiliations, gender identity, and others. The consequences of prejudices that breed intolerance are discrimination from which, on the receiving end, there is pain, fear, suffering and in some cases physical injury and death. This disruption of peace robs the society of an opportunity to lead fulfilling and successful lives. Intolerance breeds fear and poses a danger to security, leading to physical and mental harm, among other vices.
It is very disturbing that in some cases, people who drive intolerance do not acknowledge that they are advancing intolerance through their own prejudices.
There lies a danger because, unless one realises and acknowledges that they are driving intolerance, it will be difficult for them to control their negative energy and negative influence.
Change begins with realising the harm that one is causing in their sphere of influence, and also realising that, while at the initiator’s level, it is just ideas, still, those you influence want to take action.
One time, I listened to a presentation by a renowned lawyer and human rights expert Sunday Nkonde, State Council, and he said allowing an inch of intolerance is a serious mistake because that inch grows bigger and becomes uncontrollable.
Ending intolerance of any form is a choice. We need to search ourselves and see where stereotypes and prejudices lie, and then make choices to address those vices at a personal level.
Sometimes, prejudices stem from ignorance and fear of the unknown. Someone said: “There is always a challenge with the ‘otherness’ of status. What is regarded as known and normal is considered the only way of being. Any ‘other’ is rejected and vilified. This is why creating spaces for debate is crucial, to allow people to debate and understand various issues and perspectives.”
The basis for tolerance should always be human rights. Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of nationality, place of residence, sex, gender, gender identity, national or ethnic origin, race or tribe, religion, language, or any other status.
Every person is equally entitled to human rights without discrimination. And these rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.
When the thinking begins from appreciating that everyone is entitled to their human rights, regardless of the differences that exist between and among all of us, it will create an environment that accepts people as they are and eventually lead to ending intolerance.
Recognising the power of dialogue and debate in ending intolerance, Panos Institute Southern Africa (PSAf) promotes, facilitates and creates spaces and platforms for dialogue. This is aimed at addressing intolerance which stems from ignorance and fear of the unknown, by enabling people to be more aware of their differences and accepting them as normal. When people are aware of their differences and embrace the diversity that society presents to us, they can use those differences to build stronger relationships and enhance social cohesion.
We all have a responsibility to end intolerance and use our spheres of influence to foster unity and love for the betterment of our society. Ending intolerance is a choice that we must all make.
Lilian Kiefer is the executive director of PSAf. For feedback email firstname.lastname@example.org