Multiculturalism encounters opposition from two sources.
One is emotional. The other is societal. Fear-Based Resistance
As a practitioner of mental health, I am skilled at looking at what motivates people. Fear is one of the determinant factors of the human personality.
Cultural diversity confronts the individual with a host of differences, including style, appearance, and communication. Subjective experience of the different includes:
what does not resemble me;
what is outside of everyday experience;
what is beyond what is expected or anticipated.
Threaten my sense of personal safety;
Threaten my sense of identity;
Threaten my sense of competence;
Threaten my sense of belonging.
Developmentally, after the infant overcomes a fear of abandonment, then there is the fear of the unknown. This is clearly seen in the response of infant or toddler to the stranger or to a new situation. There may be shame, shyness, crying, or outrage.
As the individual develops and matures, he or she progresses through developmental stages that help him or her cope with and accept what is different. The individual:
achieves a sense of personal safety through the developmental tasks of infancy;
achieves a sense of identity through developmental tasks of early childhood;
achieves a sense of competence through the developmental tasks of latency;
achieves a sense of belongingthrough the developmental tasks of adolescence.
There are important conclusions that can be drawn:
differences threaten us at basic levels;
the more we have succeeded in developmental tasks (maturity), the more tolerant we are of differences;
differing levels of intolerance can be expected at different developmental levels.
Cultural Diversity confronts us with what is different and, for some, that can be dangerous. The Chinese word for “change” has two symbols. The first is the symbol for opportunity. The second is the symbol for danger. Combined, they spell out the word “change”.
Fear confronts us with our vulnerability. If we have attained a basic sense of safety and security, we thereby can acknowledge and accept our vulnerability. With this confidence, we can respond to fear with curiosity and understanding.We can balance the danger and the opportunity inherent in change and make the best decision. The more “highly developed” the individual, the more he or she could respond to fear with strength, confidence and gentleness.
When faced with a threat, the primal human response is “fight or flight”. If we have not come to terms with our vulnerability, fear can immediately engender aggression. When multiculturalism is perceived as a threat, fear obscures the ability to respond with tolerance or sensitivity.
Societal Based Resistance
Societal-based resistance to multiculturalism emerges when the values of one culture impinge on the values of another. This is much less easily resolved. Sometimes a dominant culture is confronted with political conflict when another culture attempts to legislate practices based on its own values. Examples include the right-to-life movement, strict dress code for women in public places, restricted use of language in the educational system.
Healthy multicultural conviviality (i.e., life-affirming fellowship between people) results from facing and resolving conflicts and and establishing an acceptable level of tolerance.
Conflicts when left unresolved often become intrangient to change. Values when strongle felt limit the ability to dialogue.
Conflict resolution that nourishes multicultural conviviality works toward win-win solutions. This is best achieved in a process that includes the arts of compromise and consensus.
The first teacher of tolerance and intolerance is the family. The child models him or herself after the parent, and the family system takes its lead from generations that have gone before.
In Roger and Hammerstein’s theatrical version of “South Pacific”, a media milestone in multicultural tolerance, the character Lieutenant Cable, deprived of a relationship due to cultural and racial differences, sings “You’ve Got to Be Taught”.Children are taught from the earliest ages about hate and intolerance. (In response to the “inflammatory” lyrics of the song, legislators in the State of Georgia tried to ban the performance of South Pacific in their state, due to its influence by “Moscow philosophy”.)
In psychology, there are developmental theories that account for multicultural violence. (Recent studies of birds have indicated that even those baby birds assaulted by older birds grow to be the birds who themselves abuse others of their species.)
Often when developmental social and interactive needs of young children are not met, rage becomes part of their personality. For some, the generalized anger may be deflected and becomes obsessively fixated on a particular target.
One characteristic often reported as manifested by Anders Behring Breivik is a narcissistic style. A Narcissistic Personality often evolves from arrested development, particularly in the early formative years, and may include a rage response, as indicated above, when recognition appropriate to the narcissist’s need is not rendered.
Tolerance and intolerance are taught by and learned from many other sources as well, including church, peer group, school, media, and community.
Before the Second Vatican Council attempted to renew the Catholic Church, there was little tolerance of the religious divergence between Catholics and Protestants. It was considered a serious sin for a Catholic to enter a Protestant Church, not to speak of a “mixed” marriage with someone of a different denomination.
Tolerance and intolerance serve a family, an individual, a group, or an institution by defining for that entity what behaviors and opinions are acceptable and what are not.
Does nothing about evil;
Overlooks destructive behavior;
Acquiesces to oppression.
distinguishes between bad and good;
establishes social order.
Tolerance is not passivity, inactivity, lack of assertiveness, or surrender of control. A tolerance level is
A point beyond which a behavior or opinion trespasses a standard.
A standard that reflects what is customary, conventional, or established.
Tolerance and intolerance are communicated explicitly, for example, by a “line in the sand”, a code of laws, or the flashing red light behind our vehicle when we have not stopped completely at a stop sign. But tolerance and intolerance are also communicated implicitly, through a raised eyebrow, a nod and a smile, or when everyone around the table suddenly looks down and goes silent.
Group acquiescence may determine tolerance or intolerance as well. Bystander behavior encourages negative tolerance. When the courage to stand up to the crowd is lacking, group inertia quickly finds its way to the lowest common denominator. We recently witnessed violence, influenced by alcohol consumption, including beating, guns and even death in and around baseball and football games in the United States, where the expectation is safe fun, while the other spectators give assent through their failure to intervene.
In extreme (though sadly not that uncommon) situations, perceived group consensus can give a stamp of moral approval to unquestionable evil. Group inertia gives way to unquestioning mass hysteria. This extends to the most heinous of human engagements: genocide. Once the tiger is let out of the cage, the rampage extends itself until the need for human carnage is sated.
Tolerance levels can be and, at times, should be changed. Good parents understand this in raising children. As a child developmental needs change, what could not be tolerated in a child’s earlier years are gradually allowed in order to instill confidence, maturity, and independence in the child. Parenting can be compromised when the father and/or mother fail to allow the child to experiment, learn from mistakes, and spread his or her wings.
We change the tolerance level when we discover that to maintain the standard no longer serves a family, an individual, a group or an institution. When we realize that we are failing to adapt to the world around us, there may be an increased level of anxiety or discomfort.We “raise the bar” when there is the need to gain control over a situation or when changed circumstances dictate modified behavior or opinions. Or we “lower the bar” when we have reached a new developmental level; when we have gained new knowledge; when maintaining previous level of intolerance oppresses a family, an individual, a group, or an institution.
The Second Vatican Council “opened of the windows” of the Catholic Church to welcome in the fresh breeze of what was termed as the “Ecumenical movement”. Now, not only could Catholics attend services of other denominations without special dispensation, but also we had ecumenical discussions with people of other churches (even nonChristian denominations); we welcomed their preachers into our pulpits; and linked arms in picket lines supporting the Farmworker movement or resisting the war in Viet Nam.
A similar shifting of tolerance level regarding differing sexual orientations is occurring in society. As we grow in awareness of the nature of homosexuality, most thinking and morally mature adults accept the spectrum of sexual orientation that comprise individual differences. This is seen in the recent endorsement of gay marriages in some parts.
We often don’t do a good job bringing everyone on board when we raise or lower the bar. Sometimes people are left behind with serious consequences.
Those who cannot accept the change may remain stubbornly oppositional, acting with passive (or active) aggression. In the Catholic Church, there has been a resistance group who could not adapt its tolerance level to embrace the changes of the “Ecumenical” Council. Some of these recently have come out of decades of hiding, seizing on the opportunity to reinstate regressive liturgical practices.
Sometimes resistance becomes hate, and that hate spills over into violence. There is gay bashing, both verbally and physically. Abortion clinics are targeted by those who profess the right to life. The Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, in his survivalist cabin deep in the forest, prepared packages that blew up in the faces of unsuspecting recipients. 168 people died when Timothy McVeigh, assisted by co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma. And hatred towards and intolerance of multiculturalism (fueled by a reading of Kaczynski’s “Manifesto”) took the lives of innocent youth in a summer camp in Norway.
Tolerance cannot be quickly taught through a prepared presentation, nor can it be evaluated through an examination or in an interview process. Tolerance is the long and patient process of appealing to mind, heart, and culture to achieve personal, communal and societal metanoia. Karachi, a port city of Pakistan, has saw explosive growth. With each wave of immigrants has come new challenges. Diversity is seen in the differences between remnant Hindu communities, Zoroastreans, and the many sects of Islam that coexist with tension that at times literally explodes as gatherings and demonstrations of one group are set upon by crude bombs.
Steve Inskeep writes in "Instant City, Life and Death in Karachi", "Karachi's failure to embrace its diversity proves as a cautionary tale." There is the uncomfortable gathering of different ethnic groups, different languages, and different religions.
But, at the same time, Innskeep writes that there is a longing for conviviality. People long to live in peace and security. The seeds for partnership lay dormant.
 Trudy Seita and Susan Waechter, CHANGE: Meet It and Greet It, (Downers Grove: Heritage Arts Publishing, 1991) pg.vii