The victim wars: How competitive victimhood stymies reconciliation between conflicting groups

However, both academics and peacemakers must consider that intervention to reduce competitive victimhood or, more generally, to increase positive attitudes toward the rival out-group, may have different effects depending on the status and power of the groups in conflict. For example, Bruneau and Saxe (2012) demonstrated that Israelis, who have more power, both economic and military, and Palestinians, who have less power, respond asymmetrically to listening interventions. In particular, when Israelis were asked to actively listen to a Palestinian, their trust of the Palestinians and their empathy toward Palestinian suffering increased. If Palestinians listened while Israelis spoke, their attitudes did not change. In contrast, Palestinians’ attitudes improved only when they were given the opportunity to speak while an Israeli listened.

The path to a radical removal of the sense of victimhood and, ultimately, to reconciliation is challenging. Nevertheless, a growing body of social psychological research is revealing key strategies for its achievement. Concepts like intergroup contact and common in-group identity seem to be not only useful, but instrumental in establishing new societies no longer characterized by segregation and tension, but instead by harmony and integration. However, it is clear that for these strategies to be effective, there must be effort and coordination on the part of academic researchers, policymakers and peacemakers.

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