Leading the fight against hate

This blog is part of a series published on WEFLIVE from young leaders in the One Young World community who are addressing issues across the world relating to the World Economic Forum 2017 theme of 'Responsive and Responsible Leadership'. 

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Hate and division cripple our societies. We have recently witnessed a worrying rise in hate speech, both at the U.S. Elections and at referendums around the world. Unchallenged, this has the capacity to undermine peace for years to come.

But this worrying trend is also an opportunity. Leaders have the potential to combat the spread of extremism in their communities by championing a more sustainable vision for the future, where everyone is able to engage freely as part of a diverse society.

A great leader understands the lasting value of investing in inclusion, rather than merely pursuing immediate electoral gain through words of division. A responsible leader is one who knows how to weigh his or her words carefully, avoiding jumping to quick conclusions that can harm certain groups. The outstanding leaders of today will be those that build bridges and mutual understanding.

At Citizens’ Awakening, we firmly believe that dialogue is the key to societal renewal. Hate can be fought with what we consider our most effective weapon: words. Our core belief is that everyone has something to say. It is a vital first step in the divided times in which we live. Sharing is knowledge. It bestows positive change on anyone who is prepared to listen with their ears open.

During our conferences we gather together energised people, who step into the room with an understanding that they must talk to and listen to their counterparts. By this approach, we create opportunities for dialogue and build a much-needed climate of tolerance. We can have an impact in shaping global policies by going deeper into each contentious subject and finding solutions by working together.

Young people seek progress. They are more engaged and willing to act than ever before. Organisations like ours are proliferating on every continent, and together we represent an extraordinary asset for leaders to work with. Within two years, Citizens’ Awakening has opened in seven countries, and on four continents. This is a genuine sign of our potential to connect and bond, and of the willingness of the world’s population to actually move forward.

But when we are surrounded by so much optimism, we cannot allow ourselves to ignore reality. Hate destroys minds. Violence calls for more violence. We believe that even amid the pain of war and misunderstanding, hope can and must blossom. To create a new era of leadership, current leaders of all backgrounds have a duty to empower their young people. They must stop considering them as irresponsible young men and women, and start putting forward those who are leading positive change, so that they can inspire the generations to come.

François Reyes is the Managing Director of Réveil Citoyen, a civil society think tank born in France as a result of the 'Charlie Hebdo' attacks, aimed at uniting civil society to encourage cultural dialogue in order to keep these communities safe from attacks, both foreign and domestic. The think tank has now expanded to Canada, India, United Kingdom, Hungary and USA. Francois spoke on uniting against extremism at the One Young World Summit 2015 in Bangkok and his full speech can be found here