Violence begets violence
© Getty Images

If you are wondering if violence in America and around the world is more pervasive today than you can remember, just read the headlines from one day's news and judge for yourself:

  • "North Korea claims it could level New York City"
  • "Despite low hopes, attempt to end war in Syria"
  • "Iraq conflict: Civilians suffering 'staggering' violence"
  • "Blast in Turkish capital hits busy area, kills 34"
  • "Protests rock Brazil's streets"
  • "Israeli retaliatory strike kills 2 Palestinian children in Gaza"
  • "Police officer slain in Prince George's County in Maryland"
  • No, you are not imagining things. Violence everywhere is on the rise.

In the United States, FBI statistics confirm your hunch. According to the FBI's "Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report," the number of violent crimes reported in the first six months of last year was higher than the year before. The report is based on information from over 12,000 law enforcement agencies and includes serious crimes like murder, manslaughter, rape aggravated assault and robbery.

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Don't threaten to leave America for safer shores. As for the non-American statistics, they are not much better. In 2015, 38 million people around the world have been displaced within their own country by conflict or violence. This is the equivalent, say international agencies, of the total populations of London, New York and Beijing combined. "These are the worst figures for forced displacement in a generation, signaling our complete failure to protect innocent civilians," says Jan Egeland, secretary general at the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

So where does that leave us?

Here's what we know about violence: It begets more violence. Conflict is a cycle and often the cycle repeats itself, and ripples outward with a momentum all its own. Think of it as a boiling pot of water. It starts with just movement. Then it bubbles up. Then it boils over, spilling out of its enclosed area.

What can be done? Diagnostics and prevention. Just as we seek to prevent deadly cancers from invading a body, we have to prevent political violence from escalating. We have to find the root causes — the anomalies, the cells that have mutated — and stop them before they spread to vital organs and cause pain, suffering, and death.

Today we are witnessing political violence, criminal violence and international violence. Smart people need to lock themselves in a room and start dissecting the data and search for clues as well as solutions, one place at a time, one community at a time. There is no mass panacea, but there are local answers if we collaborate to find them.

Our children live in this violent world. Only we can stop it. Together. Urgently. Now.

Sonenshine served as under secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs and lectures at George Washington University.