As politics becomes more fractured, divisive and tribal, and nationalist tendencies on the increase all over the world, the paradigm of a global community, shared responsibility and action on global struggles might seem to be losing its influence.
Despite the fractious nature of our discourse however, many continue to support the ideal of working together. There is even a growing awareness and understanding of the importance of accepting and understanding our differences in order to be more effective in co-operating to achieve common goals. In the UAE, for example, His Highness the President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, declared 2019 the Year of Tolerance.
At the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2019, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance welcomed visitors saying: “You have travelled from the four corners of the earth in pursuit of a common goal: a sustainable world. Your tolerant embrace of global diversity encourages the empathy and compassion necessary for understanding and cooperation.”
When it comes to the environment, he believes the responsible community is necessarily global, saying, “To be effective, our global community must be infused with a spirit of tolerance. Worldwide cooperation demands the respectful and sympathetic inclusion of everyone irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, gender, ability or disability, age, political or philosophical belief, religion, or economic status. No element of the global population can wall itself away from the earth’s environment. Tolerance builds bridges and allows us to fulfil our duty to the future of the planet. Tolerance is a powerful enabler of sustainability.”
To understand the link between tolerance and sustainability one may look no further than the United Nations. In September 2015, the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Building on the principle of “leaving no one behind”, these goals emphasize a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all.
Goal 16 is the embodiment of tolerance, stating explicitly: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”. This is as clear and unequivocal a statement as possible emphasizing the key role that tolerance plays in enabling sustainable societies. It says that peaceful and inclusive societies are those that embrace and cherish diversity and difference in all its forms.
The Minister of Tolerance continued, “Like a bridge, tolerance requires constant attention. Most importantly, our schools and universities, both religious and secular, must combat ignorance and promote understanding through the scholarship of its faculties and through their teaching of its students. Free and open discussion must prevail. Curiosity must be honoured. Faculties must encourage students to cross the boundaries and engage the unknown.
“Human history reveals that men and women of all religions, ethnicities, and cultures have long been threatened by the unknown. It has too often been the case that many of ‘us’ have known very little about ‘them’. Even in today’s world of easy travel, instantaneous communication, and almost unlimited access to information, alarming numbers of people remain parochial, indifferent to other points of view, resistant to new knowledge, content in our ignorance. Fears of the unknown breed hostility and often lead to armed conflict. Fear and ignorance can destroy civilizations.”
In order for people to thrive and economies to grow, business must proceed with operations, but it needs to take place within a different paradigm. We need new, creative ways to keep the environment and people protected, which will keep the economy going. Once those ideas have been created or imagined, the practical process of bringing them into being requires innovation – something that does not thrive within rigid, authoritarian structures and strictures. It requires an open mind.
Some of the ideas that we saw at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week ranged from: space satellites being used to track climate changes or even to monitor and correct building energy performance; solar suitcases being delivered to rural medical facilities – providing light to help prevent maternal and natal deaths at birth; paint that eats pollution; dates that sequester CO2 as they grow; new approaches to water desalination and even fuel development. The important thing is the imagination that gave rise to the ideas and the vision that supported their development.
Developing a tolerant mind-set, teaching our children tolerance, alongside critical and creative thinking, is the only way to equip them to manage the myriad challenges the changing world may throw at them. And it might just be the way we save the world.