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We Need a Little Fear

By Jonathan Haidt, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership

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In other words, America faces many serious threats, but each side sees some and denies others. Morality binds and blinds.

The voters have spoken. So, what now? How will our still divided government deal with our mounting threats and challenges?

Shared fear can help.

A Bedouin proverb says, “Me against my brother, my brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers.” Human beings are pretty good at uniting to fight at whatever level is most important at a given moment. This is why every story about a team of warriors or superheroes features an internal rivalry, but all hatchets are buried just before the climactic final battle in which the team vanquishes the external enemy.

A national election focuses our attention on a single level of competition — political party versus political party. Let’s call that “me and my brother against our cousin.” But after that, it’s time for our national team to come together to fight the many threats and enemies that confront us. Let’s unite with our cousins to fight the stranger!

Except that we didn’t do it four years ago, when things looked even grimmer, and there’s no sign that we’re going to do it now.

Read full piece as published in The New York Times