Dec 10, 2021

Breaking society’s bad habits Starts With Us

Decades ago, hatred began to build in online chat rooms, where people (protected by the anonymity of their computer screens) could post judgmental vitriol with little accountability. We thought these ugly conversations would stay contained to small virtual spaces; but when millions of people adopt the same bad habits, those behaviors add up to define who we are. Hatred begets hatred and nasty words based on nastier (and often false) sentiments, have since spread through social media – and bubbled over into the offline world, too.

Today, we seem quicker than ever to judge one another, and slower than ever to forgive. We often assume negative intent instead of positive, and point our fingers before we’ve taken the time to explore the nuances of a situation. More and more, we’ve replaced trust in one another with chronic skepticism and defensiveness. We have become accustomed to pitting “us” against “them,” and dividing the world – and its complex issues – into two incompatible halves.

We tend to consume information more superficially. We frequently share articles online without having read them and ‘Like’ posts in our newsfeeds before making the effort to think hard about the ideas we are endorsing. We often resist changing our minds or admitting to ourselves that we could be wrong, because doing so feels like a concession. We are becoming increasingly inflexible and more prone to rationalizing away ideas that don’t confirm our existing beliefs. As a result, we are getting farther from the truth and much farther from each other.

We reflexively retreat to our echo chambers and silos, where we feel comforted by those who affirm our views. Seeing differences as threats, we increasingly avoid confrontation. In a nation in which people used to argue an issue vigorously and then head to dinner as friends, we now risk losing the ability to engage in hearty debate as a means to uncovering the strongest ideas.

Societal stressors have converged to enable these patterns. Divisive political figures have sought to pit us against one another and to normalize treating those with different political views as ‘lesser than.’ Fundamental inequalities deeply embedded in American institutions have exposed centuries of injustice, tempting us to turn our anger and frustration into blame. The atomization of news sources and social media algorithms designed to promote sensational, contentious, and often false stories are contributing to a culture in which it’s easier than ever to slip into harmful patterns of narrow-mindedness, fear, and incivility.

Just as we cannot ignore these forces, we also should not deny our personal roles in creating the climate in which we live. The way we engage with ideas, one another, and our communities shapes our culture; so, we cannot be surprised that our own bad habits are tearing us apart.

The scariest outcome of these cultural shifts is a rise in dehumanization. Across history, every major genocide, including those committed against innocent people in Rwanda, Germany, and Yugoslavia began with dehumanization in the media. We should not underestimate the power of words, which are usually strong indicators of intent and precursors to action.

It is up to us to change the discourse. Yes, social media has made it more challenging to have nuanced conversations grounded in empathy and curiosity, as opposed to judgement and one-sidedness; but even within these constraints, we can strive to overcome our worst instincts with the knowledge that we are all fallible people who mean well. Ultimately, we want similar things like freedom, safety, opportunity, and a better future for our children, who are inheriting the outcomes of our choices.

We have different approaches to meeting our goals, but our differences are the source of our strength. It is upon these differences that America has achieved success where nations corrupted by hatred and division have failed. Collaboration across perceived lines of divide fuels the marketplace of ideas and spurs innovation.

If you feel ready for constructive change, you are not alone. Over 100 foremost leaders have to come together to use our daily habits to improve ourselves and transform our culture in the process. Starts With Us is creating the tools and exercises to help every one of us to collaborate with courage, relate with empathy, and approach the world with more curiosity. We kicked off this morning with a pledge in USA Today, encouraging all of us to disagree better with a ‘frenemy’ past or present. Will you take the pledge and join us?


Empathy          Starts With Us

More from Daniel

End of Year Note 2023

Dear Friends,
As we approach the close of this tumultuous year, I am reflecting on the challenges we’ve experienced in pursuit of our mission to foster kindness in the US and across the world.

read more

A Letter to College Students: 10 Ways to Side with Humanity

By Lonnie Ali and Daniel Lubetzky

Over the past two months, people of all races, ethnicities, and religions have experienced enormous pain and suffering. Acts of terror, war, and ensuing hatred have deepened the cracks that were already threatening to divide our communities.

You, our nation’s young people, have been implicated in this. The campuses on which you live, learn, and strive to become the people you want to be, have turned into battlegrounds. Some of you are angry. Some are scared for your lives. Others feel confused and alone.

This is not your fault. It is not one group’s fault. Extremist ideologies sow division wherever they go. Most of you are not radical. We see you. Most of you are compassionate. We hear you. The overwhelming majority of you want to supplant the forces that divide, destroy, and diminish with ones that unite, build, and bring light to the world. You want to replace polarization with problem-solving to benefit all people.

As a passionate Muslim and a passionate Jew, we have come together to humbly share a path forward for how to transcend the construct of “us vs. them” and side with humanity instead.

read more

Terrorist Attacks by Hamas- Builders vs. Destroyers

As someone who has dedicated my life to build bridges between people, most centrally among Israelis and Palestinians committed to resolve their conflict and build a better future for their children (ie., OneVoice & PeaceWorks Inc), I hope everyone will unanimously and vocally condemn the appalling terrorist attacks by Hamas. Hamas proudly targeted women and children as hostages. Ukrainian President Zelenskyysaid it best: terror like that perpetrated by Hamas must be eradicated or else violent extremism metastasizes and harms us all.

read more