Today marks the second International Day of Conscience since the UN officially recognized the event in July 2019. April 5 is now a day to reflect on the capability in everyone to make the choice to move deliberately toward a world of peace. Tolerance, forgiveness, and love are not always easy to offer to one another but, when one makes the effort, these gifts bring a cleaner conscience to all parties. While all these virtues are important in building to a culture of peace, tolerance is perhaps the first step toward peace
Tolerance is a trait many people insist they possess, but it is not a simple matter of something with which one is born. It is a skill that requires practice, training, learning, and most importantly, daily expression. As people become more open about expressing who they are, we can see that society has more clearly defined expectations of everyone than we may have once realized. For instance, transgendered, genderfluid, and nonbinary people have always existed but throughout history they were rarely, if ever, accepted when they openly discussed who they were. Even today, when icons like Laverne Cox, Elliot Page, Eddie Izzard, Miley Cyrus, and Asia Kate Dillon, are open about who they are, they face criticism and deliberate mistreatment from people who made the choice to be intolerant.
Even people who believe they are tolerant can be subject to internal biases of which they are unaware. Behavior and instinct are socialised in people from the time they are born, which sometimes leads to learning intolerant behavior or mindsets. This basic psychological concept has managed to permeate the public more often in recent years, which is why people seem to be more willing to realize that people’s trained behavior can be unlearned. On a basic scale, this is why there are such things as diversity training aimed at unlearning biases. On a grander scale, there are national and international movements to bring awareness to internalized biases and introduce new narratives to combat older, more discriminatory ones. No matter how much training is done, though, progress cannot be made until people fully commit themselves to recognizing that they may have flaws, such as inherent bias, and are willing to improve themselves.
An erstwhile commitment, combined with daily practice of the principles of tolerance, are the only ways to truly commit to a more tolerant world. An odd source of wisdom on this matter comes from NBC comedy Brooklynn Nine-Nine. Police Captain Raymond Holt, himself an openly-gay advocate for the LGBTQ in the show, thanks one of his detectives, Rosa Diaz after she publicly announced she was bisexual, saying, “Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place.” Perhaps this is the mindset that is needed to reach a more tolerant culture of peace.
Of course, tolerance goes further than just accepting people for who they are as individuals. Tolerance must also be practiced towards groups of people. Throughout the world, people of Asian descent are targets of violence due to a fierce combination of ignorance and intolerance related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hatred towards race in general and Asians in particular is not new, but there has been a clear rise since the beginning of the pandemic. People falsely connecting the supposed origin of the virus in a Chinese wet market to all Asians or even just all Chinese is clearly ignorant beyond intolerance. Likewise, racist beliefs and biases against any race of people stems from ignorance and fuels intolerance, just as biases against creed, national origin, age, gender, and any other aspect of the human condition do. The basic nature of all humans is the same, and yet people always seem to find some arbitrary way of dividing themselves from their neighbors. On this Day of Conscience, take time to reflect on how you might make yourself more tolerant and find a way to spread tolerance, both the practice and the virtue, to others. Tolerance is the first step toward a Culture of Peace, but is in no way the entirety of the journey. Still, the most difficult step on any journey is often the first.