Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tolerance for Diversity

Do we know what “tolerance” is?
The verb “to tolerate” has a number of meanings.  It means for me to permit practices or beliefs other than my own.  The practice of tolerating other religious beliefs than our own is a principle of our system of government.
We find it in our most important legal document.  It is called the Constitution of Anguilla.  It was made by our government and adopted by the people of Anguilla in the year 1982.  One of the most important parts of our Constitution is the part that sets out our fundamental rights and freedoms.
Section 13 of our Constitution basically says that no law can be made which discriminates against any of us in relation to our race, our place of origin, our political opinions, colour, creed, or sex.  That means that none of us can be mistreated by any official of the government of Anguilla because we are different in some way.
Do you know someone who belongs to the Muslim faith?  Do you know any Buddhists, or Hindus, or Jews?  Those are four of the great religions other than Christianity.  Some parts of the world believe in Jesus.  Other parts of the world believe in Jehovah, Buddha, Brahma/Shiva/Vishnu and the other Hindu gods, and Allah, blessed be his name.  But, there are also many other religious faiths.  There are Rastafarians, Bahais, Sikhs, Confucianists, Shintoists, and Obeahists.  Our Constitution teaches us to be tolerant of all of them.  Let people believe what they want to believe.  Do not hurt someone just because he was brought up in a different church to yours.
If we feel an instinctive dread or fear of persons of a different colour, or a different religion, or a different culture, it does not mean that there is something wrong with that different person.  It means that there is something wrong with us.  Perhaps, we have an inferiority complex.  We may be damaged in some way that does not permit us to practice or favour tolerance.  Intolerance is the opposite of tolerance.  It means being so sure that you are the only one in the right that you must hurt, or injure, or insult persons who are different.
Do you know someone who has to keep in a wheelchair, because they cannot stand up?  What happens when we see that person?  Do we go up to him or her and ask how he or she is today?  Or, do we turn our faces away because we cannot bear to see someone who is so different from us?  The principle of tolerance tells us that we should go up to that person and welcome him or her.  We should make every effort to let that person who is living under such a big challenge know that we appreciate and respect him for who he is.  That is showing tolerance.
Diversity is the reason we need to show tolerance.  Diversity means having lots of differences, when some of us are not like others of us.  Diversity describes the nature of our world.  Our world is a diverse world.  There are different nationalities, different climates, different religions, different sizes and shapes of people.  There are different ways of dressing, and different ways of behaving.
In Anguilla, in religion, there is not much diversity, since most of us go to a Baptist Church, or a Methodist or an Anglican Church.  They are all pretty much the same, so we feel comfortable with each other.  But, many years ago, these faiths were at war with each other.
Three short centuries ago, people were burned at the stake, or hanged by the neck until they were dead for belonging to a different Christian denomination than the majority.  A lot of people were persecuted, and had to flee from their homes to save themselves.  It still happens today in war-torn parts of the world.
But, most people today welcome diversity.  When we have so many people of different colours, and languages, and religions, we have diversity that adds interest and flavour to our lives.  Would life not be boring if we were all the same?  Who wants to eat corn for every meal, of every day, of every week, of every month, of every year?  We need diversity in our diet to enjoy a healthy nutrition and a healthy life.  So, we also need to welcome diversity in culture, and in races, and in religions.
If you meet someone who is afraid of foreigners, or who hates people who are different, you will know that you are meeting someone who is immature and ignorant.  A person who is insecure in his own culture and faith is disturbed at coming into contact with other cultures and faiths.  Someone who wants other people to be just like him is intolerant and afraid of diversity.  A well-balanced person, someone who has a good character and self-confidence in his or her own worth, finds other cultures and faiths interesting and exciting.
Just because you are orange does not mean that you must not like those who are yellow, pink, purple or maroon.
I want us all to be tolerant for diversity.
A speech given by invitation to Orange House at Campus B of the Albena Lake-Hodge Comprehensive School on Friday 12 March 2010.