There have always been attempts to figure out and explain why people often just can’t get along. One of the oldest attempts is in the bible; In the story of the Tower of Babel, the people of the world come together to build a tower that reaches up to the sky. According to the Bible, God isn’t too happy with the idea, so he makes people speak in different languages. Failing to understand each other, they can’t coordinate their work and fail to build the tower.
In modern times, our tendency to view the others with suspicion has been studied by social scientists. There are many things that cause people to be intolerant, and this tendency to view outsiders with suspicion seems universal. Whatever the reason might be, one thing is for sure; You only have to tune in on the evening news or log in to social media, and you’ll be in no doubt sure that we do not seem to get along. And it does seem that we’re living extraordinarily intolerant times on top of that. Whether it’s politicians or just regular everyday people, it looks like people are looking for the fault in others to justify their own hard times.
AIESEC works towards fostering cross-cultural understanding; we believe that it is the key to tolerance and stability through leadership. Ignorance leads to misunderstandings that can fuel intolerance and even hate. Realizing that this is crucial for finding a solution that bridge gaps amongst civilizations, but sometimes people seem not even to want to try to understand. So what is to be done then?
We are prone to see the fault in others more than in ourselves. So when things go south, we’re likely to point the finger at someone else. When it doesn’t look good for our reference group, it must be because some other group is holding us back or exploiting us. Indeed, studies have linked racist attitudes to economic downtimes.
People often think that racism comes from cultural differences. But there are examples in history when cultural similarity didn’t prevent people from doing horrible things to others. As humans, we seem to be quite good at coming up with attributes that are supposed to make us different from others. Sometimes it’s skin color, sometimes religion, and when you can’t seem to come up with anything else, even a different livelihood will do.
So what should we make out of all of this, are we just doomed to be like this forever? Just because we recognize that people tend to act in a certain way under certain conditions doesn’t mean we should give up. Quite the opposite, making a more accurate diagnosis allows us to medicate the illness correctly.
Even if it looks bleak now, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t get better. We have to remember that some of the greatest achievements of humankind have been achieved by working together. Many countries are built on the idea of immigration. International collaboration in science, technology, and trade is making things possible, that a single nation couldn’t achieve alone. We are suspicious of others, but we are also altruistic. We look after those who need help, even if what we give is not necessarily enough.
There are a lot of factors that go into facilitating tolerance. But understanding each other is still the key to being able to live side by side. The worse the situation seems, the more you need to act. It’s hard because sometimes you can risk a lot for speaking up. But who is going to do it, if it’s not going to be you?