The Three Things We Should Do Now to Create Peace in America
November 18, 2020
We have choices to make about the future of our country.
We also have choices to make about the future of our communities and our families.
If we make the wrong decisions, we could be headed for a future of anger, division, and serious damage for ourselves, our families, and for the futures of our children and our grandchildren. We could and probably will doom our grandchildren to live in anger, animosity, danger, failure, and perpetual inter group division and conflict if we make wrong choices now about how we decide to be and how we decide to think as a country.
The context that we all need to understand is increasingly clear.
We each have deep instincts that cause us all to divide the world into Us and Them and to act very differently towards people who we perceive to be Us or Them. We all have an instinctive need to be in an Us and to support our Us — and we all have very strong instincts to distrust, dislike, distain, blame, fear, and attack and damage whoever we perceive to be Them.
When those instincts get activated in a group of people, they have great sticking power and they have major levels of resiliency that can extend their damage over generations of people. There is no doubt that set of behaviors is true and have the power to do damage for a very long time. The people of Northern Ireland have their Us/Them instincts in gear today and they have literally done damage to each other for hundreds of years for that reason.
It is an ugly, painful, stressful and sad thing to live in some parts of that country because people with kids and grandkids in those northern Irish communities today know that there is a very high likelihood that their kids and their grandkids will be damaged in significant ways by either the conflict or by the residual damages those interactions create for people in settings wherever they exist.
But the core divisions in those settings continue beyond and in spite of those truces and extend and reopen and re-emerge beyond the truces and the ceasefires as long as those basic Us/Them instincts are in gear in any setting. That has been true for centuries and it is true now in far too many settings across the planet today.
We see the same sets of instincts triggering inter group damage in Sri Lanka, Syria, Gaza, Tibet, Chechnya, and even parts of Ukraine.
The Uighur and the Kurds and the Houthis are all being oppressed, persecuted, incarcerated, damaged, expelled, purged, and too often simply killed in those areas where another local group perceives them to be Them — and the people doing the killing feel like they are champions and heroes for their group when they kill the Houthi kids and label the Houthi families as extremists and separatists.
Separatists everywhere trigger those same sets of instincts. Those instincts are why they are separatists.
Barcelona wants to be separate from Spain and the people from the Spanish ethnic group who hold power in Spain put them in jail and sometimes even execute them for wanting to be with their own people in their own homes, speaking their own language, and simply governing their own settings and lives.
One of the most famous antiwar paintings in the world, Guernica, was done by Pablo Picasso to show the extreme horror of the inhumane damage that was done by Nazi war planes against the Barcelonans in one of their attempts to be free. Hitler learned his mass civilian bombing techniques in the practice runs that he did on that peaceful city against the separatists there for the government of Spain.
We know exactly what to expect when those instincts get seriously triggered in any setting.
We see inter group anger and we see ugly, damaging and often evil inter group behaviors whenever those sets of instincts are activated, and in settings where those instincts get activated, the cold and powerfully sad reality is that once those instincts are activated and once people believe them to be the right things to do for their group, they can literally stay activated for centuries.
We are at very real risk of going down those same kinds of paths in our country today. We are at very high risk of being very human at several dangerous instinctive levels in our country today and of sending our communities down the path to perpetual division with those very damaging and powerful instincts guiding and shaping our values, thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors.
It is happening now in our country at a level most people don’t even suspect might be possible.
We have a lot of angry people.
We are turning our politics from being ideological and even philosophical contests and debates to being tribal divisions and ethnic and racial wars, and we have growing numbers of people in our country who are defining people from the other political party as a non-human and evil Them and then believing that definition of evil to be true at a basic, foundational, and perpetual level for the other group of people.
When people in any setting call the other side evil and when people in each group actually believe that the other side is evil, then we can tell that those dangerous instincts are in gear, and they are likely to reinforce themselves and to exacerbate and increase their negative impact in ways on us in multiple settings that feel entirely right in each setting to the people whose anger has been engaged.
It is a seductive, tempting and very slippery and highly self-reinforcing slope to pure tribal thinking, behaviors and beliefs.
Other sets of dangerous and relevant instincts get triggered in the process. We know what those other instincts are as well.
Leaders of groups can find their own support from their group increases when people in the group feel that the leaders are their champion and their warrior against threat and evil. That is a universal pattern of behavior.
That is a very universal and extremely familiar pattern of instinctive behavior that gets triggered in inter group settings everywhere.
Every culture on the planet celebrates its warriors and its champions, and our loyalty instincts are extremely powerful and can be extended to both our group and its leader in ways that feel very right to each person feeling them.
America has been a magnificent and increasingly successful experiment in doing many important and positive things right that are anchored in the best components of our instinctive behaviors and in our most enlightened thinking as a nation and a people.
The American Dream of acceptance and opportunity has been inconsistently available to our people, but it is an amazing, powerful and functionally effective dream at several levels and people from all over the world still come here because they want to have a chance to do well in the context of that dream.
We have been racist, and misogynistic at multiple levels, and we need to know, understand, and recognize that we have, as a nation, triggered some of the worst impacts of those Us/Them instincts for centuries We have done almost genocidal things to our Native Americans. We literally and functionally enslaved millions of African Americans for literally centuries. We have been deeply discriminatory in clearly intentional ways against everyone who was not a white American male for literally centuries.
We have a painful history of some of the worst elements of those Us/Them behaviors doing damage to too many people in this country for a very long time.
But we are blessed by the fact that that very wrong behavior that did that damage for those reasons is not the full story for us as a country.
At the same time that we allowed those sets of negative instinctive behaviors to shape what we did as a nation at major levels, we also have had an purely American track of enlightenment and exceptionalism, and we have simultaneously built and consistently improved and refined ideals and values of equality and opportunity and human rights and human dignity that have been a beacon and a guidance for us and to the world.
There is a deeply positive and sometimes wonderful side to the American experience that has also given us very right things to celebrate and build on as a nation. We have had enlightened ideals that were originally only offered to white males — and we have managed to extend those blessings of inclusion and opportunity in constantly and consistently increasing ways to the rest of our population.
We have been able to increasingly perform at higher levels in in what are now increasingly very positive ways for all of those inter personal and inter group behaviors — and that recent history of significant progress in those areas gives us a chance to succeed as a nation today.
We have passed laws about discrimination and negative behaviors and practices that have extended the vote to everyone and that have opened other areas of our society to everyone with no formal barriers in place where those barriers used to dominate our settings.
Progress has been made.
Much of the progress has been done very recently, and it is moving us in some good directions.
We need to build now on the opportunity created by our growing enlightenment in those areas now to get us through this huge threat and very immediate risk and to give us an inclusive nation that embodies the best components of American exceptionalism and values in a way that will give our grandchildren safety, security, and basically good lives.
We all need to recognize and understand that it has not been easy to get to this place of enhanced opportunity.
We have done some heavy lifting and we have paid a major price with our Civil Rights movement and with our Women’s Rights and other Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender movements, and we are more enlightened and more accepting in a growing range of areas relative to all of our people than we have ever been.
We Are on the Right Paths in Several Key Areas
We are now on some very right paths in a number of areas. We are actually at an historical moment for the next levels of progress as a nation.
We have had very recent explosions of enlightenment that we need to build on at this point in time.
The Me-Too movement has been unexpectedly wonderful, powerful, effective and game changing in changing behaviors and expectations and cultural standards for a number of gender related issues. We need to build on that foundation now on our gender related issues and we need to consolidate our gains and make some key expectations the new set of expectations that guide our interactions on gender issues.
The George Floyd murder and the waves of very powerful and clear backlash to that event and to others like it just now has given the entire country a whole new level of belief, awareness, recognition, and growing understanding about some very powerful and important racism and racial equity issues.
Those video tapes have made it impossible for people to believe that those events do not happen — and that awareness gives us an excellent opportunity to do the right things to change some of those patterns in permanent ways.
We are beginning to have discussions in areas where no discussions were happening.
That very powerful learning on those key areas is happening in a context where we have been blessed in actually making good progress as a nation on a series of legal issues relative to discrimination and to negative inter group behaviors.
Our news sets of equal opportunity laws and regulations have made discrimination in hiring and education and in a number of other areas where bad and instinct driven negative inter group behaviors were the norm for centuries much better at many important and functional levels and that set of changes gives us a chance to make real progress that would not have been possible a decade or even a few years ago.
Those laws and our recent experiences of increased enlightenment in those areas have given us the best chance we have ever had to make real progress in those areas.
It would be a horrible shame to be at this moment in time when we are so much more aware of those issues and where we have increasingly enlightened values and beliefs at several important levels to have us fail entirely now and to become Belfast and turn ourselves into tribes who hate each other purely as tribes.
It is very tempting to tribalize. We have too many leaders who would like that to happen.
We need to rise above that set of hugely seductive tribal instinct temptations and we need to move on very intentionally instead to become and create the next generation of American exceptionalism.
We Need to Build the Next Generation of American Exceptionalism
We need to decide to be an exceptional American Us defined, aligned, and guided by our most enlightened values and beliefs and by a commitment we each make to each other as Americans to have all Americans win as Americans and as shared believers in the American dream.
We need to make the commitment now to the basic ideals of America, and we need to be a nation that is an Us based on our shared beliefs and not our politics, race or tribe.
Democracy, inclusion, opportunity, honesty, and continuous improvement– rather than being locked into our old achievements– should define us as an Us to each other going forward from here.
Those historical, enlightened values that have united and guided us, often at invisible levels, in the past are written into Chapter Seventeen of The Art of InterGroup Peace book and also into Chapter Seventeen of the Cusp of Chaos book that are both available free and electronically on this website.
Just agreeing to those core and basic values as a personal commitment for each of us is a major step for each of us in the right direction. Our chance of success will increase significantly if we also very clearly agree as a people to do five things that will help us succeed and that will also allow us to prove to each other that the commitment we are making to our mutual success is real.
We should set three key goals now.
Help Every Child from Every Group
The first major goal should involve our children.
We need to change the massive learning gaps in our schools. That actually can be done.
We need to make sure that our schools meet the needs of our children from every group and we should make a foundational commitment to help every child from every group in the first months and years of life when neuron connectivity is hugely important for the life trajectory of every child.
This website has several pieces that explain why that is true — and the book Three Key Years explains the science and opportunity in detail for every child.
The sister websites about early brain development for each child in English and Spanish, Threekeyyears.org and Threekeyyears.es both give the basic and easy to use information needed for every family to give and create extremely positive and beneficial first months and first years for every child.
We should agree — across political lines and barriers — to help every child in the first years when neurons connect in the brain of each child to do the right things to have billions of neurons connecting for every child. This website and the book Three Key Years explain what that pathway needs to be for every child.
Eighty percent of the people in our prisons have a hard time reading, and we can only change that reading level damage if we help every child in those first months and first years of life because the brain biology actually changes at four and it is much harder to create that capability after that point.
We owe our people books for kids and we owe clear teaching about those opportunities to create billions of neuron links just by talking to children to every family — and the fact that most births in America this year will be in Medicaid families gives us a great connection we can use to help our children.
More than half of the Medicaid families do not have a single book — compared to 12 to 20 books per child for non-Medicaid families–and the WIC program that supports Medicaid in every state can reduce the learning gaps across America like the WIC programs in Los Angeles are doing with book distribution now.
We Need Better Health and Continuously Improving Care
As a second unifying goal, we also need to do significantly better on our health and on our health care. The opportunities that exist for health care improvement are massive as well.
We should be on the cusp of a golden age for health care — with better care and adequate coverage for everyone in our country. It actually costs less to get care right because we have fewer heart attacks, fewer asthma attacks, and we can have people with cancer getting more early diagnosis and even artificial intelligence supported care for both diagnosis and treatment.
The tool kit for care can easily be significantly enhanced — and that better care should be available to everyone very soon.
Every American should also be entitled to have electronic copies of his or her own care history and access to care improvement tools that can use that information at a personal level to improve health and care.
We also need to improve our health.
We also strongly need to encourage and support every American for both healthy eating and basic walking. The human body is made to walk and tends to be significantly healthier and recover faster when we walk. The rate of becoming diabetic is more than cut in half when people walk at least 30 minutes a day. We need our cities and communities to support walking for us all.
This website and the linked books and thought pieces explain some of those tools and approaches. Every American deserves better health, great care, continuously improving care and no American should ever be bankrupted by the cost of care.
Our health care should unify us and help us get to the next generational of exceptionalism as a nation and a people.
We Need Safe Cities
People should feel safe wherever they live — and people should have police departments in every city that are perceived to be an Us and to be a support system for the community they serve.
We need to make it an explicit and understood goal in every city to have the police feel like an Us to the people they serve so that when people have someone stealing things or when people need protections because people are physically damaging people, the first reaction can be to call the police and the police are there to help, serve, defend, and protect and are trusted in that setting.
We need to work with every police force to have the police force function as an Us for each community. We can now decide to set those explicit expectations for every community and we can work with city leaders and police forces in every setting to achieve those goals.
Being an Us for each community has not been a clear and mutually supported goal of the policing process in an intentional way in many settings. We need that process and approach to be shared as a goal by the people who live in each community and by their elected leaders and by their police department.
Chapter Eleven of The Art of InterGroup Peace book explains ways those goals for Police as an Us and better health and a much stronger start for our children can all be met.
That goal will look different in each setting, but it will require building trust with the community to turn the police into the resource for everyone that we want the police to be. We won’t get there with wishful thinking or good intentions. We need to get there by recognizing that is where we are going and then doing the right things in each setting to make it happen.
The life of police people will be easier and better when they are perceived to be Us in any setting.
Truth Telling Should Be a Commitment and a Key Value
We should have a fourth component of our overall Peace strategy that is based on telling the truth.
Most religions and most schools of ethics and accountability make truth telling a shared value and a behavioral expectation. People in most cultures in the world make telling the truth to people in their own culture an ethical, moral, and functional expectation and sometimes even an enforced requirement.
We can use the truth as a powerful and effective tool here as well.
Our truth telling commitment, strategy and approach does not need to be complicated to have a profound impact.
We should each set a simple standard for ourselves relative to the truth.
We do not want or need to debate what is true. We also don’t need to decide or determine or somehow adjudicate what is true.
We should make truth very personal.
We just need to each agree that we will not say anything that we personally know is not true at the time we say it.
We simply need to each make the personal commitment in dealing with other groups of people on inter group issues not to ever say anything that we know is not true when we say it. The clear standard and the golden element of that approach is to police ourselves by not saying anything we know is not true when we say it.
We will show respect for the people we are talking to by making that commitment.
That level of telling the truth will go a very long way to reducing the anger levels in inter group interactions that come from obvious and intentional falsehoods.
It also is good for our self-respect — because it’s not easy to maintain full levels of self-respect when we lie and we all tend to feel better about ourselves when we are telling the truth.
We should also ask our leaders and our media people to tell the truth. We can’t enforce that expectation with any of them, but we can ask for it and we can use social media links of various kinds to provide feedback to any leader of our group or to any media person or outlet for our point of view who is saying something we believe they know is not true.
Making that commitment to only saying things that are true does not mean that we need to change anyone else’s behavior. This is a matter of personal ethics and personal behavior and we can each use it to guide ourselves as a personal ethical and process guideline.
It points in the right direction and it’s worth a try.
Overall — achieving Inter group Peace needs to be a personal commitment that we each make to ourselves and to each other.
Knowledge is power.
We each need to know how tempting negative instinctive behaviors are and we each need to believe in our shared values and in our desire for the next generation of American Exceptionalism to happen to the point where we each make a commitment to Peace and then try to make that next level of Peace and achievement happen.
Helping every kid is the right start.
Creating better care and shared good health is also a good start.
Helping steer our police departments to function as an Us is a very important next step — and we can ask our group leaders and political leaders in each community to steer each city in that direction.
Telling the truth is also an extremely good thing to do for that entire process, because it shows respect for each other at a very basic level when we agree not to say things that are not true.
There are some people who want us to fight. There are some people who want us to hurt each other.
There are people who want to be warriors for their group.
We need the warriors to protect all of us, not just some of us.
We need warriors for us all who are our warriors and not doing bad things to us because their most petty and divisive tribal instincts are in gear and they do not see us all as being Us.
At this moment of high risk for us as a country, we need to understand that risk and we each need to decide to not go down the slippery slope to tribal warfare in America.
Let’s start a Peace Movement now that will make us all safe and successful in key parts of our lives.
We can make the commitment to Peace one at a time.
You might find some interesting and informative stuff that is useful to do and useful to share with other people who we want to help us build Peace.
Peace Now should be our choice, and we should try to help friends and family and our communities go down the path to Peace.
The very real and the immediately relevant alternative to creating inter group Peace is for us to continue to tribalize and to politicize in the most dangerous and damaging ways and to build animosities, anger, and a growing need for both retribution and revenge that will define our interactions in far too many of our communities for a very long time.
We know that if we don’t make that choice and if we go instead down the divisive path, we will have the same sets of basic instincts in gear in our communities that trigger how people treat each other right now in Belfast, Gaza and the dozens of other settings that have gone down that ugly road and who are fully immersed there today.
We won’t be very special when that happens.
But if we make that choice, we will definitely look back on right now and we will really wish that we had done key things now to keep that horrible world from happening to us and to our families and to the grandchildren who will be damaged because we failed them now.
This post was written by Institute for InterGroup Understanding