The Art of Tolerance

On my recent weekend away in Paris I went up the Eiffel tower and when I looked down at the Champs de Mars from the viewing platform I noticed, through the morning mist, two rows of “people” lined up on either side of the lawn.  I decided to investigate a little more closely after I had descended the tower.

On closer inspection I found that they were bears rather than people and that they formed a touring exhibition of United Buddy Bears.  The bears are on display in Paris (for a few weeks) to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the twinning of Paris and Berlin and the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty.

There are approximately 140 United Buddy Bears representing the countries recognised by the United Nations.  Since 2002 the bears have toured the globe promoting tolerance and understanding between different nations, cultures and religions.  The buddy bears stand ‘hand in hand’ symbolising the vision of a peaceful world.

The Buddy Bear motto is:

We have to get to know each other better…

…it makes us understand each other better, trust each other more, and live together more peacefully.

The bears are over 6 feet high and each one is individually designed by an artist from the country that the bear represents.  Therefore each bear represents a nation and its culture but they do not represent any political belief system.

Rather than show you a bear representing any one particular nation I have chosen to show you the Golden Rule and Global Ethic bears that were designed by Eva Herlitz, they are united by a heart. The Golden Rule is defined as ‘Try to treat everyone the way you would want to be treated.’  The bear on the left displays the Golden Rule written in many languages and the bear on the right shows symbols and original texts covering the Golden Rule from the scriptures of each of the seven major religions that embrace the Golden Rule and which promote peace amongst the different religions.

All the nations’ bears in the Paris exhibition are listed here, along with the name of the artist and their explanation of their interpretation of the purpose of their Buddy Bear.  I found that some of the ideas worked much better than others.  But I suppose that is bound to happen because art is open to interpretation by each of us as individuals.

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2 thoughts on “The Art of Tolerance

  1. It must make a grand sight, in keeping with the grand theory. But such peace and tolerance is unlikely to happen – at least in the far forseeable future. Tolerance is the least understood word among the great human race and it seems that religion is one of the biggest breeders of intolerance. The second is culture and race, not black versus white, but north against south, east opposing west, town against town, that sort of race and culture, which leads to riots and wars and “ethnic cleansing”. When religion, culture and race combine the hate and intolerance knows no bounds.

    So as nice as the theory and appearance to two rows of teddies is, I think it is just a vain hope which has cost an awful lot of money that could have been spent on more useful and worthwhile things. How many Kiva type projects would it have helped?
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSheila Eames

    I just and absolutely love this! I’ve always believed that ‘art’ might ultimately be a universal symbol of tolerance and love. And – here it is. These Buddy Bears are fantastic! I’d so wish to see this display in person.
    Thank-you for bringing it to us here!
    November 9, 2012 | Registered CommenterMarcie

    I love what these bears stand for. I hope that within my lifetime they become a quaint reminder of the ‘bad old days’. I really, really hope for this.
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersoosie

    Ohhhhhhhhhh, I LOVE these bears, Cherry, and can’t believe they are still being shown around the world. I saw many of them in Berlin back in 2005 and fell in love with them. In fact, we even have the United Buddy Bears book that chronicles each and every one of them. It’s priceless.

    I do understand a bit where Sheila is coming from in her comment. It reminds me of what’s been happening this election year in the USA. However, I find myself repeating to myself and sometimes out loud every day now that if WE aren’t the change, if WE aren’t optimistic, if WE aren’t hopeful, why would we ever expect anyone else to be! Are we really believing there is no hope? If so, why don’t we all go to hell in a hand basket right now this very minute (as some on FB seem to think)?!
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGinnie

    I think anything that would help us all “live together more peacefully…” is worth our efforts. Over the last few days that song, “Let There Be Peace On Earth”, keeps coming to mind.

    “…and let it begin with ME…”

    If a work of art, such as these bears, can inspire even one person to change and begin to live a more peaceful life with others then it has been worth all the work involved.
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

    I spent quite a bit of time reading from your link to the Global Ethic bear. So much common sense represented in that bear; simple, but wise, lessons for all the world’s people. It seems to me that the Buddy Bear project would be one that would speak to all people. Cute, but with a message that young and old alike could grasp and enjoy.

    Thank you Cherry for bringing this project to our attention. It’s a new-to-me project that I’m glad to read about.
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSue

    The golden rule-golden. Thanks for bringing awareness to this project. I had no idea. I’ll have to investigate the rest of the global bears.
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElena Caravela

    Thank you for sharing this story. I had no idea that these bears existed (seems I’m not alone there based on the comments). What a fabulous idea and one that I hope gets more publicity.
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen Cassen Mickelson

    I saw the bears in Berlin in 2009, however, they were different ones (I just went to the link you mentioned, and I see that the bears indeed are different). I thought it very fascinating at that time, I was inspired by the artwork and the colors. We spent a looong time with those bears.
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarola

    What a grand idea. It’s with the simplest things so often that we can teach and communicate complex things. Getting along? Seems to be so complex in so many parts of the world, but at its base – simple. Tolerance. Getting to know each other better. Love (the heart). Especially timely message today after our elections here in the states when half of us seem to be licking wounds.
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

    What a fantastic concept. Thank you for sharing and I will be off to hunt up some more bears to check out.
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

    A nice idea. Undoubtedly many people have enjoyed the presentation. It may bring people together and make them share their longing for peace and understanding. But I’m afraid I sit on the pessimistic bench here. I followed the link to the gallery of those bears and found the one which “represents” my country. In my opinion it’s awful and I don’t like it at all. Why this artist and this piece of interpretation has been chosen to represent my homeland? I wouldn’t have voted for that. Can we understand one another better this way?

    Thanks Cherry for this post. It offers an opportunity to ponder over how peace and cooperation should be promoted best.
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPetra

    I don’t know if such art and symbology changes anyone but I think we have to keep trying and showing openly our hopes for such peace. I breathed such a sigh of relief when I found out after the election that the No Gay Marriage amendment did not pass in Minnesota. It’s the first time such an amendment hasn’t passed. This renewed my faith in people and that things are changing for the better in this tolerance area. Perhaps more good is to come.
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaery Rose

    Cherry, thank you so much for bringing this to my/our attention! I’ve never heard of the bears, but I so love what they stand for! Based on the link, unless I’m missing something, they’ve never made it to the states? Well someone needs to put the US of A on the list! We could all use it!
    November 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGotham Girl aka Robin

    What a beautiful and hopeful post, Cherry. I went and looked at all the different bears an artists you linked and I find it so impressive. I love the Golden Rule bears you chose…if only we could all remember this one rule…Thank you for spreading the word 🙂
    November 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnyes – Far Away in the Sunshine

    Thank you for all your thoughtful comments on a subject that I know is difficult; I will try to respond adequately to all your thoughts …

    I didn’t see the exhibition as a grand sight; I found it curious and descended down from the tower to explore what I had seen. When I realised what the exhibition was about, it captured my imagination. I enjoyed looking at the individual bears and trying to understand what that bear was portraying. I enjoyed the concept even more when I read up about it in more detail when I got back home.

    The individual bears are supposed to represent their individual countries, some of them work for me, and some of them don’t (including the bear from my own country). Some of the bears have been replaced over the years and some of them are still the original bear that started touring. It is not clear why some of the bears get replaced over the years. Broken, out of date, tired…

    The exhibition is about promoting tolerance between, cultures, race, religions and many other things that cause a divide between people and nations.
    I have an issue with the word ‘religion’ and I did hesitate to use that word in my post. In the context of the project the word ‘religion’ really means ‘faith’. The Golden Ethic Bear is illustrating that the scriptures behind all the major faiths teach the same message/principle. Simplistically those scriptures teach that love and peace is the way, although there is much more to the scriptures than that.

    Peace may be a vain hope, but it is a worthwhile hope…

    I agree with Ginnie, WE are the change, WE are optimistic, WE are hopeful. If WE don’t stand up and speak who will?

    I realise that is much more difficult to speak out when living in under an oppressive regime. I cried as did everyone else including the men when a Palestinian lady who had been imprisoned for speaking out and campaigning for her beliefs (spoke at conference I attended). She told us about her ordeals and spoke quite passionately about having the freedom to walk down the beach for the first time and pick up a pebble in front of the conference centre.

    Her speech was an inspiration to me, and I am not sure if I could be that brave in the circumstances that she had endured…

    To conclude my thoughts (for now) I believe in the messages of the Golden Rule and the Golden Ethic bears which promote peace and tolerance and I know that I am only a small voice in the world, but there are many small voices in the world, if all those small voices stood up and spoke out…
    November 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCherryPie

    What a lovely idea. How wonderful it would be if the entire world lived by the golden rule… this gives me hope.
    November 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly

    Thank you Kelly, I am glad you were inspired.
    November 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCherryPie

  2. I think it’s a lovely idea for art on the street. And the Golden Rule is certainly an excellent guide for how to treat each other. Thanks for sharing this Paris show of art.

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