As the new year began, the world was paralyzed to witness a tragedy caused by intolerance and religious extremism. I am referring to the sad episode carried out against the Charlie Hebdo news magazine in Paris, where terrorists victimized twelve people and thereafter caused the death of five more.
Regardless of the motives of the action taken by the group that took the lives of these people, it reveals a reality that is rarely considered by the media. Extremist groups have persecuted and murdered people who profess a faith different from theirs, doing it in the name of God.
This leads one to consider a few things very carefully: how can religious and cultural conflicts be contained? And how do atrocities such as these impact the local and world economy? These are somewhat complex issues which do not have a single answer or solution, but rather, a set of solutions. Besides, these issues affect every one of us.
Regarding the first issue, I believe that the first step toward harmonious coexistence is the promotion of tolerance for differences and of freedom of expression and religion. Respect for one’s fellow man, for his needs and peculiarities is an important and definitive step toward the resolution of conflicts. Such an attitude consists of putting oneself in the place of another.
In Brazil, we represent an example of what freedom of religion and expression is. In spite of existing differences, we are a continental country, with a population of over 200 million people who profess the most diverse types of faiths and, even so, we have lived relatively free of religious conflicts. If this tolerance were absent from our midst, just imagine what would happen under the following incident.
A few years ago an alleged religious minister decided to insult Catholics by kicking the statue of Our Lady of Aparecida, on his TV program broadcasted nationwide. He repeatedly quoted the passage: Thou shall not make unto thee graven image. Thou shall not make unto thee graven image. Imagine if the Catholics throughout the country were to begin attacking this specific religious group, their places of worship, feeling they were justified for defending their devotion to Our Lady of Aparecida, the patron Saint of Brazil!!
Thus, individual action and tolerance are basic building blocks for social balance. In addition, it should be mentioned that a number of studies support the idea that, even in a country considered to be secular, religion impacts (for better or for worse) economic results, since it influences the entrepreneur’s individual characteristics as well as his decision making. It even has an influence on the nation’s economy, with a job market which does not choose an employee based on his or her faith, but on his or her competence.
On the other hand, where such freedom is limited, a profession of some particular religious belief may mean the exclusion of entire families from the economic scene, leaving them to fend for themselves. This would represent an economically weakened marketplace, with a reduced rate of social development.
I fail to see any advantage to intolerance and to the use of religion in the commission of atrocities such as those carried out in France. To the contrary: I am convinced that the ability to accept cultural differences that exist in the world and peaceful living side by side is the foundation upon which humanity is built.
On a personal note, tolerance and respect embody the behavioral model that every entrepreneur must foster, because, in successful teams, the leader’s example will be reflected in those being led, creating a virtuous cycle. Freedom of expression, of conscience and of religion must be lived in practice and not only be one more article to fill up space in the Declaration of Human Rights. As is the case of faith without works, theory without practice is dead.
I present this modest reflection so that each of us may understand that the furtherance of the social and economic well-being of the country and of the world depends, in large part, on individual actions. It depends on how much I understand and accept the fact that I have a commitment, not only to myself, but to my fellow man.