14.11.2012 - UNESCO Office in Brasilia

Message of the International Day for Tolerance, 16 November

Message from Ms Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, on the occasion of International Day for Tolerance, 16 November 2012

Difference must not be a source of division but strength. This is our core message for the 2012 International Day for Tolerance.

In a world changing quickly, in societies that are ever more diverse, we are reminded every day of the need for tolerance. The ties connecting people and societies have multiplied, but so have opportunities for misunderstanding and tension. With closer proximity have come new threats that are exploited by those seeking to deepen divisions. The ‘local’ is but one click away from the ‘global’ in the digital era, and this creates new, unpredictable vulnerabilities for all societies.

In this context, the call for tolerance has never been so high -- and yet tolerance remains often misunderstood.

Tolerance is not indifference to others. Nor does it imply the full acceptance of all beliefs and behaviours. Tolerance does not mean any lesser commitment to one’s own convictions or a weakening of resolve. Tolerance is not patronizing; it does not carry the implicit perspective that one’s own position is superior. Nor is tolerance innate, a quality that some are granted, of which others are bereft.

Tolerance is an act of humanity. It takes its cue from universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. It means recognizing the dignity of others as the basis for one’s own. Tolerance is a skill to be nurtured and taught. Never be taken for granted, it is a commitment to be learned and renewed every day.
This is UNESCO’s mission – to build solidarity across all borders, between all peoples, to strengthen humanity as a single community around shared values. We work through education to teach children tolerance and understanding and the meaning of being global citizens – and the new Education First initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General is important here. We protect cultural heritage and diversity as sources of belonging and bridges for dialogue. We harness the power of the sciences to share the benefits of progress with all societies. And we promote freedom of expression to allow all to speak out and be heard. We act in all these ways to help people not just live together but prosper together.

Globalisation should not just widen connections – it must deepen our sense of humanity, especially at a time of economic crisis, when hatred is fuelled by injustice and magnified by ignorance. We must invent new ways to strengthen the binds that bring us together. We must reach out to young women and men, who carry the greatest burden of change.

Tolerance is a way to disarm fear, to open the world for better change and to lay the foundations for lasting peace. This is UNESCO’s message today.


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