29 June 2017

Unlearning Intolerance: National and International Perspectives in Global Citizenship Education

The panel discussion entitled "Unlearning intolerance: national and international perspectives in global citizenship education", organized by the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) and the Boston Global Forum on Global Citizenship Education, was held at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday, 27 June 2017.

The program was moderated by Orrin Finn Summerell of the UNAI Office. The lead speaker was H. E. Ambassador Nguyen Phuong Nga, Permanent Representative of Viet Nam to the United Nations. Additional speakers were Eunhee Jung, Executive Director, IVECA International Virtual Schooling; Bruce Knotts, Director of International Resources, Unitarian Universalist Association; Le Phuoc Vu, Chairman, Hoa Sen Group; Roya Mahboob, Chief Executive Officer, Afghan Citadel Software; and Nguyen Anh Tuan, Chief Executive Officer, Boston Global Forum, and Chair of International Advisory Committee of UNESCO Chair on Global Citizenship Education, UCLA.

Each speaker offered remarks about the importance of education for combatting intolerance and fostering communities with shared values and respect for diverse opinions. Several speakers commented from personal or business experience to support the need to unlearn intolerance and to learn the value of global citizenship. It was suggested that to be a global citizen was to be someone who could value his or her own culture without finding fault in another’s values and heritage. 

I was especially impressed by Eunhee Jung’s expressed caution about the terms tolerance and tolerating, suggesting that they are implicitly negative. Her comments prompted me to think about an experience at a college years ago when an African-American baseball player was told he could not go on the Spring Trip to the South because hotels would not provide a room for him.

One staff member expressed sympathy toward the student, saying that he was sorry about the situation. Another expressed empathy, acknowledging how painful he thought the experience must be.

Finally, a colleague and I brought the situation to the attention of the college president, who showed compassion and took action. He said that if this player could not go on the trip, then no one could go. This is the meaning of compassion: not only feeling sympathy; not only acknowledging empathy; but taking action to alleviate the cause of distress in the interests of justice and equality, even if only in a local setting. Compassion is the opposite of intolerance, and much more than tolerance. The compassionate person not only acknowledges pain, but also acts to confront the cause of the pain as a fellow human being.

Sympathy, empathy, and compassion are behaviors that can be taught. Indeed, the very meaning of “global citizenship” is that each of us is a member of the world community who should show compassion to others.


About the author

Robert A. Scott, Ph.D., graduated from Bucknell University with a B.A. in English and received his Ph.D. in sociology and organizational ethnography from Cornell University. He served as president of Ramapo College from 1985 – 2000 before he was appointed as the ninth President and professor of anthropology of Adelphi University in 2000. He served in this role through June 30, 2015, when he became president emeritus and university professor.