Know Your Neighbor (KYN): New Year’s Resolutions Campaign

The Know Your Neighbor New Year’s Resolutions Campaign ran from January 8th-15th, 2018

The New Year is a time for taking stock of where we’ve been and for looking ahead to where we want to go. That’s the meaning of the tradition of New Year’s resolutions.

Most New Year’s resolutions are personal and individual (I resolve to lose weight, I’ll clean out that junk drawer, etc.). This year, however, as we look at where we’ve been, we have to take stock of disturbing developments in our country and the world that we need to respond to not just as individuals but as communities.

Everyone knows that our nation is riven by deep political polarization. But perhaps not everyone sees that underlying this polarization are (among other things) profound changes in the US religious and ethnic landscape. A study in September by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) revealed that, for the first time in our country’s history, white Christians are no longer a majority (43%). The percentage of the population overall identifying as Christian has dropped to 70%, while as recently as 2007 it was 78%. The percentage of the religiously unaffiliated has grown to 24% in the population at large and to 38% among those 18 to 29 years old. The new America is more pluralist and less predominantly white and Christian than in the past.

These changes have spurred a backlash in the form of growing bigotry. To take anti-Muslim prejudice as an example, a 2017 survey by Pew Research found that 41% of Americans believe that Islam encourages violence more than other faiths, 44% that there is a natural conflict between Islam and democracy, and 50% that Islam is not part of mainstream US society. (Here too there is a sharp partisan divide, with Republicans about twice as likely as Democrats to espouse anti-Muslim beliefs.) Such bigoted attitudes naturally feed a rise in hate crimes. Between January and July of this year, there were 63 attacks on mosques in the US, compared to 46 in the same period in 2016—an increase of nearly 50%. Nor are Muslims the only targets. Jews remain the religious group most often targeted by hate crimes, and the Anti-Defamation League reported an unprecedented 167 bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the first three months of 2017.

These realities call for action. Bigoted actions are rooted in bigoted attitudes, and bigoted attitudes are rooted in ignorance and fear. We in ING know the antidote to that ignorance and fear: education about and personal contact with members of minority communities. One study by Stanford and UC Berkeley researchers found that a 10-minute conversation changed people’s attitudes even three months later. A PRRI survey found substantially lower levels of prejudice against Muslims among people who had social contact with them. This is all in line with the “contact hypothesis” long established in social science that holds that face-to-face contact with members of a group is the most effective way to dispel prejudice.

This New Year, therefore, should call us to make one simple resolution: to get to know our neighbors and to encourage and enable encounter and mutual learning among diverse Americans. That’s what ING is doing through our Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters program and indeed through all of our work in promoting interfaith and intercultural education and engagement. If we all join together in this effort, we can defeat intolerance and work toward our vision of an America where all races, ethnicities, and religions live together in harmony and peace.

By sharing on social media you can inspire others to take strides this year to better their community and find others who can help you accomplish your resolution. Come with us and #KnowYourNeighbor.

How to Participate