There is a great deal of intolerance in the world today. Not just on a global scale, in war zones and the Islamic State. Not only in national and local pockets of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic activities reported in the media, either. There is evidence of everyday sexism, ageism, racism, intolerance and other disrespect of differences, in all walks of life.
How can we encourage young people to tolerate and respect diversity or difference?
Our identities have various characteristics, including: gender, ethnicity, race, language, sexual orientation, family composition, relationship status, religion or belief system and socioeconomic status. These characteristics can be used to define us; to differentiate or categorise us – and to create an impression of our identities based on what is ‘known’. However, these impressions are also informed by what we don’t know – our assumptions, bias or prejudice.
A 2014 survey in the United States from the Pew Research Center measured ‘familiarity’ and ‘warmness’ toward certain religious/non-religious groups. The “warmest” ratings went to Jews, Catholics and evangelical Christians. But Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Buddhists and atheists received “colder, more negative” ratings. This survey also reports that a person knowing someone personally from a certain group gives them more positive views of that group; whilst not knowing anyone from that group leads to more negative impressions and opinions. Again, if not actual fear of the unknown, this certainly suggests distrust or wariness of unknown groups.
Playground bullying, prejudice and gang rivalry, like terrorism and war, are signs of intolerance. People are taught to fear things that are different, or unknown. This results in responses ranging from ignorance and rudeness to ridicule and violence. Yet, differences add to the richness and diversity of our world. What if everyone learned that ‘difference’ is natural? With respect, understanding and acceptance, it could be embraced.
If racism, sexism and general disrespect are not addressed, meaningful society cannot exist. When young people make comments that are ‘off’, we should offer constructive criticism and different ways of thinking, rather than just complaining or admonishing them. Our reaction will help build sensitivity and respect and can prevent the young person from being defensive. Instead of using a judgmental word or statement, they might simply notice, “That’s different.”
If every child grew up accepting that every single person has equal rights – how different would the world be?
Founder, Arthur Coaching
Arthur trains individuals to become professional Young People Coaches. Our mission is to facilitate access to quality leadership coaching for young people.