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UNDERSTANDING ROOM ONLY
In the wake of a bitterly divisive election campaign and its aftermath, each of us, regardless of where we stand on the political spectrum, has a role to play in healing the hurt, dispelling the hate, mending the rifts and doing our share to build a civil and just society. For almost 24 years, the MOT has provided the safe and inclusive space to bring people together for respectful dialogue and discussion - the give and take of a free, democratic society. The message of the Museum, etched in the architecture as one steps on to the main exhibit floor, is clear: UNDERSTANDING ROOM ONLY. We enter the Tolerancenter™ with the proactive prompts – contemplate, debate, relate, celebrate, motivate, activate, participate. Key themes throughout the Museum reinforce the imperative to realize the power of words and images, understand the dynamics of discrimination, appreciate the interplay between democracy and diversity, and assume personal responsibility for positive change.
What we take out of the MOT experience depends very much on what we bring in, and the extent to which we are willing to confront the truth about ourselves and the world in which we live. But one idea is universally grasped from the exploration in this museum of both the positive and negative chapters in history: that the courage and morality of a society are constantly on trial, and in a crisis, society is often tested to its limits. The Holocaust teaches us that terrible things happen when people forget history and their shared humanity and succumb to ignorance, fear and hate.
The MOT shares stories that exemplify the strength of the human spirit, amplifies voices of hope, advocates for social justice and upholds human dignity. It also challenges us to question our own closely held beliefs, to be mindful consumers and producers of media, to listen for meaning and understanding, and to respect and acknowledge that others may hold views counter to our own. We approach the word “tolerance” as the active pursuit of human dignity; putting respect into practice. How does each of us do this? That is the conversation we encourage in the MOT.
The current question in the polling station is: “Post election, are you optimistic that the country can come together and find common ground?” A majority of MOT visitors have voted ‘YES’. Oprah Winfrey, here last Sunday to interview Director, Ava DuVernay, about her Netflix documentary, 13TH, commented that the vote reflects the ethos of the MOT and the hope it inspires. Now is a time, she said, that the voice and message of the MOT must be heard ever more loudly.
Here are some ways the MOT continues to lead in advancing this important work:
We all share some responsibility for the tone and tenor of civic discourse. Through many examples in historic and contemporary contexts, the MOT emboldens us to move from being a bystander to becoming an ally. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us that “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”