Both Sides Are Minimizing Violence. Americans Must Fight for Our Nation | Opinion

Shocking news emerged this week from the bipartisan committee investigating the January 6 attack: On that dark day, Fox News hosts and former-President Donald Trump's son sent text messages begging for Trump to address the nation and stop the violent riot. Yet many Republicans continue to downplay the insurrection that dangerously undermined electoral integrity and the rule of law and threatened our democracy.

But minimizing violence isn't only happening on the Republican side. From Philadelphia to Los Angeles, District Attorneys promoting an anti-police narrative and lax crime-fighting policies have contributed to an alarming rise in homicides and spiraling crime rates. Yet despite the skyrocketing crime in liberal bastions, many of us have family and friends living in these cities who refuse to accept that controversial policies to suspend prosecution for many crimes may have played a role in the violent wave.

There is no comparing an attempted insurrection with day to day crime; one is significantly worse, and a much bigger threat to our democracy. But both sides are suffering from a partisan blindness that has led to minimizing any violence that appears to implicate their leaders. And it presents a huge threat to our country.

How did we get here?

In a word, tribalism.

Bexar Texas police officer fired Capitol riots
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office of Texas has fired Lieutenant Roxanne Mathai after she posted images on Facebook touting her participation in the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. In this photo, Trump supporters clash with police and security forces, as they storm the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty

As someone who emigrated from a country with fewer freedoms and a weak rule of law (Mexico), who is the son of a Holocaust survivor and has spent over thirty years trying to advance conflict resolution in the Middle East, I have seen how rigid tribal thinking, a lack of human interaction with those who may have a different vantage point, and an assumption of negative intent on the other side can corrode society. History's darkest moments have all begun with dehumanization, a process that starts when tribalistic feelings—self-righteousness, unforgiving judgment, fear of the other—creep into the mainstream.

And we will not stop America's descent into increasingly violent civil unrest—embodied by January 6 and the crime wave sweeping our nation—until all of us take responsibility for the health of our nation and the cohesiveness of our society.

There is a lot of work to be done. Americans' perceptions of both ourselves and each other are dangerously distorted. In a Morning Consult survey of Americans commissioned by Starts With Us, the majority of respondents described themselves as respectful, honest, open-minded, kind, and good at listening. But respondents most often characterized their fellow Americans as judgmental, narrow-minded, stubborn, arrogant, and intolerant.

judgmental

And while a majority of Americans—64 percent—are worried that our nation is on the wrong track, no one feels personally responsible. In fact, everyone thinks it's someone else's fault.

One reason why we don't see each other clearly is because even moderate Americans are increasingly blinded by partisanship, even when it comes to things that should be non-partisan. Surveys routinely show that Americans' perception of the economy varies wildly based on whether the person they voted for is in office. They also find that Right-leaning Americans consistently underestimate COVID risks, while Left-leaning Americans tend to exaggerate COVID's severity.

In fact, this whole article is something of a Rorschach test; many of my fellow Americans will find it biased in favor of one or the other side, when my point is not about which side's leaders are to blame but about responsibility, which we all share.

Of course, there are top-down forces making blind partisanship and polarization more pervasive. Divisive political figures have sought to win power by normalizing seeing those with different political views as "lesser than." Moreover, fundamental inequalities deeply embedded in our institutions have exposed centuries of injustice, tempting even moderate Americans to turn justifiable anger into blame. The atomization of news sources and social media algorithms designed to promote sensational, contentious, and often false stories are also contributing to an epidemic of disconnect and discord.

But at the end of the day, we are ultimately responsible for the way our own behaviors, perceptions, and misperceptions shape our society from the bottom up. When we post nasty comments about those who disagree with us, shame colleagues for accidentally using the wrong language, or use biased media sources to affirm rather than inform our beliefs, we amplify our fellow Americans' distorted perspectives of us and widen the gaps between us.

Only we can fix the problem that ails us as a nation. The way we engage with ideas, with one another, and with our communities shapes our culture at large. And just as many people's bad habits add up to a nation with big problems, good habits can help us heal.

Most of us feel that these issues are not our fault. But even if our actions are not extreme, our daily interactions with friends, family, and colleagues, online and offline, could be more empathetic, curious, and courageous. We can all do more to question our own assumptions, learn to listen to understand the "other," and step out of our comfort zones. These are the habits that can break down rigid thought patterns, replace suffocating judgement with forgiveness, and contribute to a culture in which the norm is not to fear each other but to work together.

The good news is that responsibility carries power. My father credited his survival of a Nazi concentration camp to acts of empathy and courage amidst one of the darkest periods in humanity. At the OneVoice Movement, we have built a movement of nearly one million moderate Palestinians and Israelis who decided they had a role to play in ending the conflict.

The older I get, the more I'm convinced that the so-called "average person" is the most overlooked change agent in all of society.

Stopping America's descent into deeper civil strife and violence requires change at the personal level. It's time for every one of us to take off our partisan goggles, reclaim our brains, and step into our agency—before it's too late.

Daniel Lubetzky is the founder of KIND Snacks, PeaceWorks, the OneVoice Movement and Starts With Us, a civic movement to build resilient societies through our daily habits.

The views in this article are the writer's own.