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Promoting Tolerance in Trinidad and Tobago’s Melting Pot

November 16 marks the International Day of Tolerance, established by UNESCO in 1995 to highlight the dangers of intolerance and the necessity of tolerance in our diverse world. This day carries special meaning for the multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation of Trinidad and Tobago. With our motley mix of cultures blending African, Indian, Chinese, Syrian and European influences, promoting tolerance is key to preserving national unity.

Our twin-island republic prides itself on being an inclusive melting pot. But lingering prejudice based on race, ethnicity, class and even complexion can undermine social cohesion if left unaddressed. This year on the International Day of Tolerance, it is time for candid reflection and renewed effort towards building a more tolerant society.

For Catholics, promoting tolerance aligns with seeing God’s presence in all people and recognising the sacredness in aspects of life and culture that may seem secular. The Church teaches that all human beings have equal dignity as children of God, made in His image and likeness. Intolerance violates this core belief. Pope Francis has repeatedly emphasised the need for dialogue and tolerance between different faiths and cultures. He states that authentic religion seeks “to promote the culture of encounter through dialogue, mutual understanding and sound human relationships.”

Fr Christo, Vicar for Communications believes that tolerance is necessary to build awareness especially in the national culture: “We see culture and the secular and the so-called non-sacred in our society as distinct of meeting or finding God in it. We know because of the Theology of the Incarnation, God can be met and be found anywhere He chooses. We need to meet Him in the ways that we can…where He manifests Himself, in particular, in our culture, Caribbean culture, music, dance, even outside of a sacred space. It does not mean compromising your values but respect, tolerance to the other in a very nonviolent way.” Carnival for example, he says, cannot be detached from its roots, “no matter what”.

Tolerance means respecting and accepting differences, whether religious, cultural, ethnic, or political. It is the recognition that diverse viewpoints, customs, and lifestyles can not only coexist, but also enrich our lives by exposing us to new perspectives. Intolerance manifests in discrimination, verbal abuse, physical violence, and the denial of rights towards those we perceive as ‘other’.

Promoting open dialogue between different communities and faiths is essential for dismantling stereotypes and misunderstandings. Media also bears responsibility for confronting issues without fueling polarisation. Reporting that humanises stigmatised groups can increase empathy and understanding.

At the policy level, the government must safeguard and enforce constitutional guarantees of equality for all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Hate speech laws can balance free expression against the public harm caused by intolerance. Ensuring equitable access to education, healthcare and economic opportunities eliminates resentments. Progress towards a tolerant society hinges on each of us embracing a mindset of openness. We must have the humility to recognise prejudices in our own thinking, and the courage to correct friends and family spreading harmful misconceptions. Judgements based on how someone looks, worships or lives limit our own capacity for growth.

This International Day of Tolerance, let us embrace the diversity that makes Trinidad and Tobago a vibrant mosaic. Our differences cease to divide when tolerance allows us to see the humanity and sacred worth in each other.