Unlearning Intolerance


My name is Colette Mazzucelli. As a member of the graduate faculty at New York University NY, it is my pleasure and privilege to join this Master Class at the United Nations. Thank you, Ramu Damodaran, for the invitation to participate.

These brief reflections are gleaned from a decade of teaching at the NYU School of Professional Studies (SPS) in the Center for Global Affairs (CGA) founded 10 years ago by Dean Vera Jelinek. The Center is a member of the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) fulfilling its mission to create a community of global citizens.

Unlearning Intolerance is a deliberative process by which we strive purposefully to affirm and to ask: What is 'civil' about society in our world today? This question drives our experience in what the sociologist Bauman terms 'liquid times' when the negative consequences of globalization lead us increasingly to encounter the generation of surplus people, surplus people who have nowhere to go in a world that is full, surplus people who make visible the inequalities evident as the served and the underserved come to live closer together.

In this world that is fragile and uncertain, we unlearn intolerance to emphasize our potential mutual vulnerability. This means that we engage in dialogue to question the underlying assumptions that make our different social and cultural environments resistant to change.

As we think about conflict in our world, these underlying assumptions are defined by our colleagues, notably Rapoport, as 'default values' so commonly referenced as to become regarded as immutable. Unlearning Intolerance asks us to remember that we have choices we can exercise to achieve our goals despite the resistance to change in our most immediate locales. The problems we experience today, millions of internally displaced persons in our world, massive youth unemployment around the globe, millions of illiterate women and girls in developing countries, these problems challenge the assumptions of ideological orientations to social change.

Unlearning Intolerance, in this context, is participatory in its design. This is one of the lessons drawn from my teaching at NYU New York, one of the 'portal campuses' defined by President John Sexton in his Global Network University Reflection.

Unlearning Intolerance takes place in the 'hybrid space,' articulated by the sociologist Castells, as 'a strong interaction between the internet space and public space.'

To unlearn intolerance is to encounter others in a 'blended learning' environment, meaning in a traditional classroom and in virtual forums. The spread of misinformation, of prejudice, stereotyping, of negative perceptions of 'the other' takes place more and more through social media.

We challenge these biases to affirm the 'civil' in society, to open a space for mutual understanding; we allow technology to mediate to unlearn intolerance in the very space where intolerance breeds ignorance and hate.

Unlearning Intolerance is 'imaging the future,' in the voice of Elise Boulding. To unlearn intolerance offers us the possibility to break out of our defensive private shells that are a safe retreat when fear triumphs in the public world. Unlearning Intolerance is our call to develop the creative social imagination in the context of what Boulding terms the '200-year present' - in her words, we live in a social space which reaches into the past and into the future.

This is the space in which we must strive to affirm the 'civil' in society, touching the lives of those around us - both near and far. In this space, there is 'freedom from exclusion' anchored as a human right because unlearning intolerance means we make a place for the marginalized, the voices repressive states aim to silence, voices that are heard in a civil society dialogue in which leaders are held accountable to citizens.

Unlearning Intolerance means accepting generative complexity and generative learning. We accept that former solutions are no longer succeeding in our complex world as we take responsibility for the learning and the knowledge we create.

Unlearning Intolerance means we accept the contestation at the heart of a society that is civil with the respect we owe each other and ourselves. Thank you.