At the beginning of the 21st century, we face a crisis of connection that lies at the root of our social, economic, educational and health problems. While the life span is increasing, the quality of life is declining as we become more isolated, distrustful, disconnected and fractured as individuals and as a society. According to the World Health Organization, global suicide rates have increased by 60 percent over the past 45 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. indicate that between 1999 and 2010, the suicide rate among Americans between 35 and 65 rose by 28 percent, with the rates increasing 30 percent for men between the ages of 35 and 50 and 50 percent for men in their fifties. More people in the U.S. now die of suicide than in car accidents. Furthermore, while mass violence, defined as violence that kills at least 4 people, used to occur only a few times every decade in the early part of the 20th century in the U.S., the numbers have been soaring since 2006. Since that time, there have been 36 incidents of mass violence in public settings and 221 incidents of mass violence overall in the United States. There is currently an incident of mass violence occurring at the rate of approximately one every two weeks in the U.S.
In the midst of this crisis of connection, we lack consensus or shared understanding of our common interests, and the policies enacted to improve our lives are typically piecemeal and ineffective in addressing the underlying problems. Over the past decade, however, the human sciences have shed light on the causes of our crisis of connection and point to a potential for transformation that is deep and far reaching. From neuroscience and biology to developmental psychology and evolutionary anthropology, a paradigm shift is occurring as researchers converge in the recognition that humans are by nature empathic, cooperative, social beings. We want and need close relationships to thrive and our capacity for mutual understanding is critical to the survival of our species.
Yet our society privileges autonomy over relationships, the self over community, and individual interests over the common good. We measure success only in economic and academic terms and not in social and emotional terms. Our definitions of maturity (particularly for men) emphasize independence and stoicism and downplay the importance of having and maintaining high quality relationships. Our binaries and stereotypes about gender, race, sexuality, religion and social class disconnect and divide us, leading us to overlook our common humanity and constraining our relationships by impeding our capacity for mutual understanding. In other words, the human sciences have drawn attention to the fact that within ourselves we have the potential to create a thriving, just, and humane society, yet we live in a culture that devalues or ignores the very qualities and experiences that we want and need to solve our collective problems.
To date, the knowledge acquired through the human sciences has not been made widely available to practitioners, policy makers, laypeople and the media in a useful and accessible manner. When practitioners have applied the research on social and emotional intelligence or stereotyping, they typically focus on only one component of the problem and fail to integrate others. Programs that focus on enhancing, for example, empathy or connectedness do not typically address the obstacles created by the gender and racial binaries and stereotypes that impede our empathic abilities and limit our connectedness. Similarly, those programs that address racism, sexism, or homophobia rarely integrate the knowledge about our common humanity that lays the foundation for why our cultural stereotypes are incoherent. By integrating the knowledge acquired from the human sciences, we are now in a position to move forward.
In order to begin bridging silos within and across the human sciences, practice, and the media, we (Niobe Way, Carol Gilligan, and Pedro Noguera) have initiated a series of conversations over the 2013/2014 academic year. With the generous support from the NoVo Foundation (co-chaired by Jennifer and Peter Buffett), we seek to engage scholars, practitioners, activists, artists, policymakers, and journalists in a sustained conversation regarding what we know in the sciences and in practice regarding our common humanity, the obstacles that prevent us from recognizing our own humanity and the humanity of others, and the ways in which we can transform our homes, schools, and workplaces so that we foster our common humanity and address our crisis of connection.
The immediate goal of the Project for the Advancement of Our Common Humanity (PACH) is to bring together thought leaders whose work is directly relevant to understanding and addressing our crisis of connection. Such leaders will come together on a monthly basis to discuss what lies at the root of our problems and to think collectively about the solutions. We will also engage in a series of initiatives with PACH members that are aimed at the general public to draw attention to the solutions to our crisis of connection. Our long-term goal is to create a think and do tank, located at NYU, where the science of our humanity is brought together in a sustained manner with knowledge acquired from various sources and settings regarding how to promote our common humanity and interests.