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Tools For Tolerance

An alarming reaction to the recent terrorist strikes on the East Coast has been hundreds of threats and attacks on Arab-Americans and their homes, businesses, and mosques nationwide. The mayors of both St. Paul and Minneapolis, for example, have made special responses to the many incidents of vandalism and threats that are occurring in the Twin Cities.

While all of us are angered and dismayed by the events of September 11th, Americans must make sure that we don't take a step backwards in the protection of civil and human rights, but instead continue to extend the hand of tolerance, respect, and friendship to people worldwide.

Understanding and appreciating cultural differences often begins at a personal level. Listed below are some steps we can take to understand our own cultural perspective, learn about the wide variety in human experiences, and promote tolerance in our community.

Understand Yourself

  • Examine your own assumptions about racial, cultural, and gender differences.
  • Learn to recognize bias in your own speech and thought patterns.
  • Learn all you can about your own cultural background and family history.

Actions You Can Take

  • Broaden your understanding of other cultures through music and art.
  • Make friends and cultural connections that extend beyond your own background and traditions.
  • Stand up for others.
  • Understand and emphasize bonds that are common among all people.
  • Talk to elderly family and neighbors about their life experiences.
  • Visit ethnic restaurants and other businesses. Get to know the owners. Ask about their family histories.
  • Practice looking at an issue from the other viewpoint.
  • Read about the history of the U.S. Civil Rights movement.
  • Speak up when you hear racial slurs or biased speech. Let people know that you feel it is unacceptable.
  • Read a book or watch a movie about another culture.
  • Applaud the other team. Promote good sportsmanship and ban taunting.
  • Travel to another country.
  • Serve on a committee that supports diversity, promotes understanding, or protects civil rights. Examples include church social action committees, groups that advocate for the elderly or the disabled, and task forces on racism, work force diversity, or social justice.
  • Take small, daily opportunities to promote tolerance and acceptance.


  • Explore with your children what it feels like to be taunted or teased.
  • Invite someone of a different background to join your family for a meal or a holiday.
  • Establish open dialog with your children about social issues. Let them know that they can talk with you about any subject.
  • Point out stereotypes and cultural misinformation in movies, TV, computer games, and other media.
  • Affirm your children's curiosity about race, ethnicity, and disability. Point out that people come in many shades and many levels of ability.
  • Read books with multicultural and tolerance themes to your children.


  • Teach about cultural diversity in child care programs.
  • Encourage your school to teach with multicultural books and films.
  • Encourage your school to provide confidential methods for students to report bullying or harassment. Ask your school to establish zero tolerance for biased behavior.
  • Encourage your school to provide diversity training for all teachers.


  • Speak to people from other cultural backgrounds at meetings, conferences, and social events.
  • Establish a confidential, internal procedure for employees to report incidents of harassment or discrimination.
  • Ensure that your workplace complies with the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

(Many of the above ideas were adapted from "Teaching Tolerance" magazine and "101 Tools for Tolerance", both by the Southern Poverty Law Center at

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