Let's cultivate a sense of respect and tolerance in the young people of Hong Kong

York Chow says that, given Hong Kong's turbulent times, it's especially important to teach children respect for others' views even when we disagree, and to be ready for dialogue

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 August, 2015, 1:34pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 August, 2015, 9:44pm

August 12 is International Youth Day, with this year's theme focusing on civic engagement. The topic is indeed fitting for Hong Kong, given that our young people have, over the past year or so, attracted much attention locally and internationally due to their active and, to some, radical participation in our city's political and social issues. While some may perceive our younger generation as impractical in their idealism, I believe they can be a force to drive the advancement of equality in our society.

Throughout my career and as a parent, I have had numerous conversations with young people on issues relating to social justice and civic responsibilities. These thoughtful dialogues reaffirmed my belief that young people will play a key role in defining our city's human rights landscape in the years to come.

Indeed, we are standing on the precipice of how we, as a society, must define ourselves and our core values. As a cosmopolitan city and an international centre for commerce and business, we have long been a place where East meets West, where diverse values and traditions coexist and thrive. We are proudly a leader in the region with regard to our legal infrastructure for the protection of individual rights. And we are one of the few places in the region with specific anti-discrimination laws.

But that does not mean we should be complacent. After all, the concept of "human rights" is always evolving. For Hong Kong to continue to thrive, we must be ready to adapt accordingly and make sure our laws keep up.

But beyond reviewing the laws, we must also begin to draw our own road map for the shifting equality landscape, including raising public awareness.

Our galvanised youth, full of passion to serve and coming from a variety of backgrounds, can surely make an important contribution to the discussion. To achieve this, we must equip them with the skills to look at these concerns with empathy, mutual respect and an open mind.

First of all, we must inculcate in our youths a willingness to engage in dialogue even in disagreement, and an ability to balance between priorities and values. In a diverse society, opposing positions and views must be expected. By not getting bogged down by competing ideologies, one can focus on creating safe spaces for discussion, compromise and common action. It is important to teach young people to ask questions and seek answers. It means enabling them to listen and learn from multiple sides before sifting through competing ideas and forming their opinions while staying open to adjustments.

For young people to gain respect and support across many generations and agendas, they must aim to do so through constructive engagement alongside self-reflection, learning both necessary traits if they wish to effect real change. They should impress with their intellectual prowess, not antagonism. Indeed, a society that lacks the ability or desire to self-reflect or to learn or to change risks stagnation, and will find itself unable to determine its own direction.

We must also do more to nurture among our youths a sense of empathy and compassion, particularly on issues that do not appear to directly affect them. In fact, such values must form the basis of our educational system. Beyond academic success, we must instil in our children a dedication to treating others with respect, offering a hand to those in need, and standing up for others who may be in a precarious position or belong to a minority group.

A good starting point should be a commitment to inclusive values to ensure that our diverse population can access the opportunities provided by this great city. We certainly can do more to give our children and our fellow Hongkongers a clear voice against injustice due to irrelevant factors such as their race, disability or sexual orientation. And on such an important issue, the focus must be on stimulating sharing, discussion and learning, so that we can build a better world. Even one small step is often just what we need to move in the right direction.

Dr York Chow Yat-ngok is chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission