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In escalated conflicts, disputants often assume that everyone on the other side is just like "those folk" that they hear about in the media. And since the media tends to focus on stories of the most extreme people or events, as that's what makes stories "interesting," people tend to get highly negative views of "the other side." (While this is particularly true if one consumes stories from the partisan media, it is also true of the mainstream, "balanced" media. They, too, still need "interesting" and "sellable" content.)
Once one assumes that the other side is "all the same," one is likely to minimize, whenever possible, contact with those "awful" people. So misunderstandings grow, and highly-inaccurate stereotypes abound. Perhaps surprisingly, the same thing can happen with people on one's own side. We don't tend to realize interest groups are usually quite heterogeneous--even people in "our own group" can be very different in background and beliefs.
This argues for taking care with our assumptions and always testing them out. Let people explain who they are and what they think--you'll often find that "enemies" are actually very similar to you in surprising ways--and actually could be "friends." At the same time "friends" might not be the same as you--make an effort to get to know them better too. The following two articles discuss the problem--and solution a bit more.
Things YOU Can Do to Help: Break Down Negative Stereotypes
Breaking down stereotypes is one of those things we all can--and need--to do to try to disrupt cycles of fear and hate. It isn't just "others" who need to do this!
Conflict Fundamentals Seminar: Stereotypes / Characterization Frames
Negative stereotypes seem to be flying particularly fast in social media and political discourse these days. The implications are extremely dangerous.
All Infographics - A set of very short statements that try to emphasize key conflict resolution principles, which, if followed, would make a lot of intractable conflicts much better.
Don't assume a person you don't know
is just like you expect them to be!
Give them a chance to surprise you!