The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations

Photo by Margaret Phelan, rscj

Soon it will be November 16 again, the International Day for Tolerance. As I (Seco) reflect on the word tolerance, I cannot believe what I have seen and heard of the consequences of intolerance, dangers of prejudices, regrettable divisions and yet a desire to build a single global society around shared values. I realize that the word tolerance itself is not very positive or constructive; it seems passive and indifferent. It feels cold, as if tolerance calls us to just get along with one another, putting up with one another, without reaching out for mutually respectful relationships. I prefer the word “acceptance” over tolerance.

However, the International Day for Tolerance is calling me to live with greater awareness of the world we are part of, an awareness of the neighbor who shares this world with me as part of a global community. Tolerance calls us to make the conscious effort, an act of reaching out to others and celebrating our differences. It is the foundation for mutual respect among people and communities. Tolerance, respect, acceptance and open- mindedness – these are the essential qualities for nurturing world peace and unity. November 16 invites us once again to celebrate and renew the bonds that bind us together as human being on this planet, by renewing our commitments to one another.

One relatively new initiative is the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations which was created in 2005 at the initiative of the governments of Spain and Turkey. The Alliance of Civilizations is a global platform for intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation. According to the brochure of the Alliance of Civilizations, it has five key objectives:

·   Facilitating the global conversation on challenges and opportunities for living at ease in a landscape of diversities in our age of global communication and exchange;

·   Promoting changes in policy frameworks and intercultural strategies built upon a broad vision, where economic and social inclusion policies and policies for cultural diversity are integrated and push each other forward.

·   Preventing intercultural tensions and crises; combating stereotypes, misperceptions, discrimination and xenophobia.

·   Supporting innovative grassroots initiatives that contribute to intercultural dialogue and understanding, mutual respect and cooperation across divides.

·   Raising awareness and mobilizing public support for cultural diversity, tolerance and inclusion.

(See The UN Alliance of Civilizations: Building Intercultural Dialogue through Shared Initiatives, page 7)

The Sacred Heart family has participated in this intercultural agenda in different ways. In October 2007, Sister Gerardette Phillips, RSCJ, spoke during the United Nations General Assembly’s Informal Interactive Hearings with civil society on Best Practices and Strategies on Interreligious and Intercultural Cooperation Going Forward. Students from our Sacred Heart school in New York City were among the 750+ persons attending the World Interfaith Harmony Week 2012 conference entitled “Common Ground for the Common Good” at the United Nations in February 2012. And in May of this year, the NGO Office called attention to the world campaign Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion.

These are just three examples that I know about, but most likely many other initiatives have taken place at the local level. As we pause to ponder tolerance in our own lives and realities, what does tolerance mean to you? How do you live tolerance in your situation? How do you look at differences among peoples – do these differences make us stronger and more adaptable? What can we learn from the past that can help us to be better citizens of today and tomorrow? Imagine if all of us could live the spirit of tolerance!

Secondina Baitwababo, rscj
Cecile Meijer, rscj
October 2012