Photo by Nathan Dumlao.

Earlier this month we heard news of the New South Wales (NSW) Australian of the Year Award being given to Craig Foster, former Socceroo and human rights activist, who has advocated for refugees and anti-racism. Recently, he helped the Afghan women’s national football team and other female athletes flee the Taliban and campaigned for the release of refugees.

In the same list of awards, Amar Singh, founder of Turbans 4 Australia, was named the NSW Local Hero for the voluntary work of Indian Sikhs who cheerfully delivered food to vulnerable Australians struggling in natural disasters of bushfires, floods and the Covid pandemic – all the while promoting multiculturalism and religious tolerance.

While most of us will not have a personal profile or outreach that makes news headlines, we are all called to exercise tolerance in our own home, workplace, church, community, on public transport, in sporting arenas and neighbourhoods. Craig Foster and Amar Singh model for us on the public stage what we are urged to do in our patch.

In 1996, the UN General Assembly set up the International Day for Tolerance to be marked annually on 16 November. What does this special day ask of us?

We can groan at the memory of the restrictions imposed during the Covid pandemic that kept us isolated. Knowing we needed to keep everyone safe for the common good, we tolerated such enforced disciplinary measures. This tolerance was mandatory and enforced.

Zero tolerance of abuse of children, vulnerable adults and the elderly is also an obligation requiring our ongoing and unquestioned commitment.

The tolerance promoted by United Nations is of a universal and deeper kind, allied with the values of Jesus in the gospels and those of our saints, founders and mentors. It’s an everyday, relational, and practical response that is grounded in respect.

Mary MacKillop’s words “Find happiness in making others happy” (1899) continue to encourage us when we are listening to others expressing opinions, worldviews, ideas and perspectives that are contrary to our own.

Staying in a conversation, agreeing to differ, trying to understand a new perspective, remaining calm without getting emotional or angry is a challenge and nevertheless, an invitation to grow in our embrace of diversity.

In our increasing multicultural and interfaith world, harmonious communities depend on our practice of tolerance. Curiosity about the preferences of others and placing oneself in someone else’s shoes can be the essence of tolerance. Empathic listening is key.

Matters where we disagree can be about the simplest and most profound of things – what we wear, eat, cook, enjoy, believe, look like, celebrate, treasure as tradition and custom, prioritise and play.

Julian Tenison Woods urges us to be open-minded, “Pray like the blind man in the Gospel for sight – ‘Lord that I may see.’” (1868)

St Paul writes:

Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. And to all these qualities add love…Colossians 3:13

Kerrie Cusack rsj
NSW Region