Beyond just tolerance – UNESCO International Day for Tolerance

Throughout history, schisms have been fueled by intolerance towards various differences. In 1996, the United Nations invited all member states to observe an annual UNESCO International Day for Tolerance on Nov. 16 in order to celebrate and further peace efforts globally.

The Source has taken this opportunity to interview three Vancouver locals regarding the state of tolerance locally as well as across the country. Queenie Choo is the CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S, a Vancouver based non-profit aimed at strengthening multi-cultural harmony and understanding locally through various social service initiatives. Angelo Isidorou is the Executive Director of the University of British Columbia (UBC) Free Speech Club and a proponent of conversation and deep dialogue. Dustin H. W. is a UBC graduate who studied political science and history. All three provide their thoughts and opinions on the state of tolerance in today’s diverse world.

Vancouverites respond to intolerance

As diverse as the Lower Mainland is, it is not common to hear about acts of prejudice or disharmony in the area. Earlier this summer, a video was released of an Asian woman being accosted and racially harassed after a parking dispute. Though it dominated the news for a short time it quickly faded from view, an action Isidorou believes reflects the fast and often erratic pace of information.

“We have entered into a period where the news is constantly competing for clicks and shares, so the moment something like that video breaks, it blows up but fizzles out quite quickly. I don’t think Vancouverites are apathetic,” he says.

Angelo Isidorou, Executive Director of the UBC Free Speech Club. | Photo courtesy of Angelo Isidorou

This opinion is mirrored by Choo who further explains that news cycles are ever changing to reflect the priorities of the media industry and the owners of media groups. These factors have more to do with how often stories are covered than a perceived state of apathy on the part of the consumer. However, Dustin H.W. takes it as a symptom of a larger fault.

“I think it’s an uncomfortable reminder that no society is immune from discrimination and ignorance. It feels like sometimes the more robust our initial reaction the easier it becomes to forget about it as quickly,” he says.

When further asked about the state of intolerance in B.C., all three respondents agreed that it is certainly present but not as widespread and in fact contained (such as colorism in certain Asian communities). Following a more holistic view, Choo sees intolerance as stemming from a lack of cultural understanding as well as grief or pain from an individual. In her eyes, people are not blind to it but often unable look at their own behavior due in part to the surroundings, the political situation around them or even influence from the United States.

The move towards unification

Though tolerance itself is often a necessary measure for the survival of the state and the ability of its people to prosper, unity is often a much more propulsive force. However, it must be achieved through delicate measures.

“I believe the survival of any state is predicated on the need of its people to unite behind something. Uniting purely behind a singular race has been shown to be a primitive idea. The Western world was built on this experimental idea of uniting people based on ideas, not race or creed,” says Isidorou.

Queenie Choo, CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S.

He points out the limitations inherent to the most common and simple method of unification throughout human history. Acknowledging the idealistic nature of the vision, he expresses the belief that a diverse culture such as Canada’s can certainly unite behind the ideas that bind us together. Building off of that idea, Dustin H.W points to an area where the complexities of diversity assert an additional hurdle for unification to dispense with.

“A shift towards a melting pot over mosaic society is necessary for this. Being so diverse, the country should focus more on our similarities than our differences. Respecting our differences is necessary, but the perpetual spotlight on them isn’t advantageous to unity in the long term,” he says.

With all of these ideas on the table the effort to balance out what can be done and what needs to be done in order to move forwards may seem daunting, but Choo believes that Canada as a whole is in a strong position to do the work.

“Canada certainly has the emotional capacity to be more unified,” she says. “As we write Canadian history every day, with the right leadership at national, provincial and local levels we can all draw a roadmap to becoming more inclusive towards the behaviors and beliefs of our neighbours and colleagues.”

An ideology to embrace

We should treasure the ideas that allow us to embrace our freedom of speech, of religion, of information and travel,” Isidorou states when asked about the things people should embrace.

It is clear that there is much to consider in the quest for tolerance and eventual unity, but Canadians have an ideology that strengthens and unites all.

“We have the right to practice what we believe in and speak to what we believe as long as we are not violating the rights and abilities of others. I believe the beauty of Canada is that we are a country that believes in diversity as our strength rather than diversity as something that hinders our progress,” concludes Choo.