A Letter To College Students: 10 Ways To Side With Humanity

This letter was cowritten by Starts With Us Founding Partner Daniel Lubetzky and our Honorary Board Member Lonnie Ali, Co-Founder of the Muhammad Ali Center.

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. 

1. It helps, not hurts, your cause to empathize with the pain of the other side.

While it is normal to experience deeply the pain of our own people, we can do this while also acknowledging the suffering on the other side. Especially when you and your people are hurting, empathizing with “the other side” can feel like a betrayal of your people and their pain. But any time we recognize others’ distress, we reaffirm to one another our shared humanity, which increases the likelihood of building bridges for our own people. If instead, we choose not to acknowledge that mutual hurt, we perpetuate dehumanization on all sides.

2. You cannot advance social justice if you tolerate hate in any form. 

We strengthen social justice when we take the moral high ground and condemn all forms of violent absolutism. We undermine our causes when we side with radical extremists whose only real cause is hate. By acting with hate ourselves, we unwittingly advance extremist agendas and fuel increased opposition to our cause. 

3. To effectively solve problems, you must understand the other side’s thinking.

Problem-solving requires the ability to think and listen critically. To devise constructive solutions, we need to consider counter-ideas, question our own assumptions, and be open to changing our minds. Listening critically doesn’t mean abandoning your beliefs. Even if we emerge feeling more convinced of our own stance, we will be more effective in advancing our position if we understand the thought process of those who see issues differently. 

4. Absolutist solutions condemn everyone to endless suffering. 

Absolutist solutions that deny the humanity or rights of the other side will never fulfill the aspirations of our own people. For peace to prevail, both sides must be willing to search for consensus and ask themselves what concessions they are willing to make so that both sides can live with security, freedom, and dignity. When instead, we take an “all or nothing” position, we condemn all people on both sides to never-ending conflict.

5. Alliances are necessary for conflict to end.

Civil society will never move forward until people of different races, ethnicities, and religions build alliances across perceived divides. If we are serious about forging a future in which people live in harmony, we must reach out to those from outside our group and team up behind the shared objectives of freedom and peace. If you don’t see an existing group in which alliances are possible, form a new one in which partnerships across division enable you to solve problems concretely and constructively. 

6. To get the full story, pop your social media bubble.

Division and conflict are fueled by siloed media consumption. When each side exclusively sees its own narrative, this creates two opposite realities that make solution-building impossible. Furthermore, solely consuming one perspective fosters extremism by affirming absolute righteousness without leaving room to understand the other side. To counter this, start following social media accounts that share different points of view. You don’t have to stop consuming your own news, but you should mix up your feed to get the full picture – even if it’s painful. 

7. To stay grounded and well, avoid social media when you can. 

Social media algorithms amplify extremism and promote overly simplistic explanations to complex issues. To stop fueling this hatred and division, dramatically limit your time on social media altogether. Fill the newly available time with building authentic relationships and connecting with people and activities that keep you grounded. This will support your mental health, happiness, and overall wellbeing, setting you up to more effectively solve problems.

8. Make curiosity, compassion, and courage part of your daily routine. 

Your problem-solving toolkit is curiosity, even for ideas you feel inclined to disagree with; compassion, even for people who you find it hard to forgive; and the courage to transcend divides and work together. Just as you may work out or practice self-care and other routines, make it a daily habit to strengthen your muscles for “The Three Cs.” Start to reexamine and concertedly address how you show up in the world, particularly in moments of tension and conflict. 

9. When engaging in DEI initiatives, learn the lessons deeply.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts can promote inclusivity and understanding so long as we engage with them deeply. If we superficially learn to stop hating one group instead of addressing the root causes of all hate toward all people, there is no guarantee we won’t replace one form of bigotry with another. DEI programs should educate all of us on the dangers of extremist ideology wherever it exists, including within our own groups. By fostering intellectual pluralism, they should help us to fight all forms of racism and discrimination

10. Muster the courage to transform moderation into BUILDING. 

The overwhelming majority of people don’t cause problems, but we aren’t the ones getting them solved either. This is a problem, because a world in which good people stand on the sidelines is a world in which evil overpowers. To build a future in which all people can live together in dignity, we must join as Builders to overcome the forces that divide, destroy, and diminish. In their place, we must unite, build, and bring light to the world. 

If you appreciated this message, sign up for the Starts With Us newsletter and join this movement.

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