By teaching children tolerance, we shield them from learning hatred

Learning about tolerance prepares younger generations for a life of kindness and service to others

RAS AL KHAIMAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 28 OCTOBER 2020. RAK Academy International Secondary School-ISK has provided students with Chrome Book laptops to aid in their studies. 5th Grade student Advay Roy Sarkar with his Chrome Book along with is mother Cheshta Roy Sarkar. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Ruba Haza. Section: National.

The United Nations marks November 16 the International Day of Tolerance. Given its mandate, the message of this day is critical to the UN commitment to “strengthen tolerance by fostering mutual understanding among cultures and peoples”.

In the UAE the word tolerance, perhaps unfamiliar to some in the past, is now commonplace. Its implications are increasingly weaved into the social fabric of the country. With a steady stream of major initiatives and laws enacted since 2015, the UAE has proved that in order to have a strong and cohesive society, a thriving economy and constructive diplomatic ties practising tolerance must be an essential part of our daily lives.

At a panel discussion on the role of culture supporting coexistence, an audience member once asked me whether curriculums in the Arab world promote tolerance and understanding. I answered that from my own experience the UAE’s educational sector was updating and integrating new material into its curriculum considerably and that tolerance was taught as a fundamental value in any upstanding citizen or resident of the country.

I elaborated on various measures the government had taken such as the creation of the National Tolerance Programme, the establishment of a Ministry of Tolerance and the President’s introduction of an anti-discrimination law.

Interestingly, a fellow panelist rebutted that such efforts were unnecessary as a child’s natural disposition is to be tolerant, meaning in their estimation that tolerance did not need to be taught in schools or encouraged by government mandates.

This comment intrigued me. Its basic premise is that qualities such as compassion, love and understanding are our natural state of being and therefore we do not have to learn how to feel or practise them. This perspective is present in Nelson Mandela’s famous lines that “no one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love”.

It is important to draw attention to the latter part of this quote. Mandela wisely warns us that people do learn to hate. We know this has resulted in terrible conflicts and tragedies globally ranging from small-scale community tensions to full-blown war. Mandela provides us hope and a simple solution to counter learned hate: we must instead persist in teaching love for the better of humanity.

It is clearly naive to assume innate qualities we are born with are not subject to change as we progress through life. Studies prove that as we grow older we change as a result of the social influences around us and our changing environments. I know we all like to believe we do not have biases and are tolerant, kind and respectful of others. The truth is we are vulnerable to explicit and implicit bias that can alter our attitudes towards others. This can lead us into forming stereotypes, generalisations and, in the most severe instances, hate. Being aware of this is imperative if we intend to practise tolerance as adults. More importantly it is how we ensure the value of tolerance is instilled in our children.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on July 09, 1998 South African President Nelson Mandela (L) and President of Ghana Jerry Rawlings (R) stand, listening to the national anthems being played on Rawlings arrival at the Union building in Pretoria. Rawlings arrived yesterday for a two day state visit to South Africa.  Ghana's former leader Jerry Rawlings, who towered over the West African nation for two decades first as military ruler and then as elected president, has died aged 73, his party said on November 12, 2020. / AFP / Odd ANDERSEN

Tolerance can and should be taught as a bare minimum given how vital a foundation it is on which to build understanding and acceptance of others.

There are a number of ways that adults, particularly parents and teachers, can instil this in our children. The starting point begins with an adult’s awareness that children mimic and absorb what we say and do so we must be careful of any negative words or views we express around them. This means before anything else we need to increase our mindfulness of how we express our thoughts and reactions in front of them.

Secondly we must truly practise respect for individuals and teach our children to respect themselves, nurturing their self-confidence and teaching them that learning to respect others begins with respect for oneself.

Another effective approach is increasing their exposure to different cultures and customs by all means available to us such as sharing a traditional holiday meal with friends, taking part in activities that celebrate the diverse communities of the UAE, encouraging them to watch foreign films and read books by international authors and make friends with their peers from different backgrounds and beliefs.

It is also important to communicate and help prepare them to confront through discussion various topics including race, ethnicity and class. To facilitate these discussions outside the classroom I continue to advocate the importance of visiting museums and cultural organisations. Such institutions are perfectly positioned to provide safe spaces for discourse and knowledge sharing on these issues. Furthermore, thoughtfully tailored programmes and exhibitions will help stimulate meaningful thinking on these issues.

With this ethos fully adopted in your household you will help your children understand the important fact that tolerance means realising that the world is a vast place with diverse peoples that maintain views, ideas and opinions different to our own. Regardless of how we feel different to others we must treat everyone with respect and kindness if we are to co-exist peacefully and create a better future.

We all want our children to flourish in this globalised world in spite of its many challenges which they will inherit. So let us pledge to nurture children to be morally strong, empathetic, confident and completely comfortable with each other’s differences. With their hearts and minds expanded – something I think our generation struggles with – they will have both kindness and tolerance as their guiding truth to a life in service of humankind.

Manal Ataya is the director general of Sharjah Museums Authority

Manal Ataya

Manal Ataya

Manal Ataya is the director general of Sharjah Museums Authority