Moving Beyond Tolerance: A Call for Communicators

diversity hands in

“Tolerance is not enough–we need action.”

A colleague offered those wise words, which communicators certainly can appreciate. They couldn’t have been said at a better time.

The International Day for Tolerance is celebrated every November 16. It is centered on mutual respect and appreciation of world cultures and forms of expression.

We tend to think tolerance is a passive state that translates to putting up with, or worse-ignoring-diversity of opinion, belief and identity.

Moving Beyond Tolerance

However, moving beyond tolerance means learning how to be together not in spite of our differences, but sometimes, because of them. Knowing our differences actually can bring value to relationships.

In light of this holiday, let’s go one step further: think about tolerance as not simply standing by idly and remaining insensitive to our differences, but instead moving toward acceptance, respect and solidarity.

This builds on important work organizations like the Global Center for Pluralism do daily.

Business and cultural leaders at the United Nations or at the most senior levels of corporate boardrooms often have conversations about resisting intolerance at a macro-level.

But what can communicators do professionally and personally to preserve a spirit of open-mindedness and appreciation for others?

Social justice movements have demonstrated that it's not enough to be a sympathetic bystander. Rather, allyship requires a deliberate shift in how we acknowledge sociocultural differences and the ways intolerance of them still too often sow division.

Communicators know disputing fixed thinking patterns takes time and repetition. So, how can we begin?

1. Educate ourselves on biases 

Think about our blind spots, perhaps intolerance fuels them. From there, seek new perspectives–the easiest starting point is examining our news diets.

Media is like a public square–where various viewpoints, perspectives, priorities and personalities should gather. We all are susceptible to the pings of our devices, serving us a variety of tasty headlines.

In an increasingly competitive media landscape, stories that encompass nuanced narratives about matters of cultural identity, background, faith and more may fall to the wayside in lieu of stories rooted in controversy that drive clicks.

On the other hand, local and BIPOC-owned news outlets, which can best showcase diverse perspectives and discuss sociocultural issues authentically, often face tight budgets.

As PR pros and consumers, it’s important we support journalists, content creators and media outlets telling authentic, accurate and thoughtful stories about identity and belief. These stories will help readers be better informed about sociocultural differences and further reject bias and intolerance.

2. Practice active listening with the intent of learning something new

Often this means relinquishing the fear of challenging our assumptions so we can create an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable voicing their perspective. Active listening is the first step to achieve this.

A study found listening builds relationships and contributes to brain health and cognitive resilience for those who receive listening support from others. It’s a small behavior change that goes a long way. It softens the ground for open, honest dialogue that breeds real tolerance.

3. Partner with people whose identities and beliefs are different from ours 

We should seek unconventional partnerships as a way of better understanding one another. This will help us stand in solidarity with our neighbors to advocate for behavior that promotes respect and acceptance.

If we don’t try to convene with people outside our usual spheres of influence, we cannot make progress in the fight against intolerance.

Role of ERGs

Employee Resource Groups (ERG) have become a powerful tool for driving inclusion across diverse organizations. For example, Google’s Inter Belief Network ensures voices of belief-based communities are represented in the company’s products and company culture.

In addition, organizations are strengthening connections between seemingly unconventional partners to facilitate deeper appreciation for one another.

For instance, some groups are supporting training programs for members of the faith and media sectors to foster improved understanding and better working relationships.

Following groups such as Interfaith America, the Religious Freedom and Business Foundation, The Multicultural Media Correspondents Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists have helped me learn so much about tolerance.

By educating ourselves and using our voices to advocate against intolerant behavior and policies, we can move toward a society rich in acceptance, respect and unity. Our differences in background, culture and belief are not distinctions to be overcome or merely tolerated. They make us unique.

And they help us learn more about each other, ourselves and the ways we can work together in support of shared values and a better world.

Aaron Sherinian is SVP for global reach, Deseret Management Corporation, and a member of the Faith & Media Initiative's exploratory task force.