Men are… Women are… Christians are… Humanists are… Gen Xers are… We all generalize about people. And yes, that is also a generalization. We generalize about people in our groups and in other groups based on our limited experiences. It is easy to generalize about “us” and “them.” We internalize other people’s generalizations from commercial and social media. Crypto-generalizations use code phrases like “inner-city youth” and “first-generation student.” As a result of coded language, dangerous generalizing remains hidden. The crypto-generalized “them” becomes the other, the not us, the enemy.
Generalizations are the opposite of diversity.
Diversity is about human differences. Generalizations work under the assumption that all people in some ill-defined group are the same.
Human brains frequently make generalizations. They are an efficient way to perceive the world. That is a chair. That is a desk. Magritte painted a picture of a pipe and added, “c’est ne pas un pipe”–it is not a pipe–as a challenge to the human tendency to generalize. Consequently, learning to generalize less is learning to not automatically accept the information our unconscious floods into our conscious.
Carl Roger’s Proposition 16 states: “Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization of the structure of the self may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more rigidly the self structure is organized to maintain itself” (1953). In other words, we like to keep our generalizations when facing counter-experiences. Generalizations are dangerous because they are part of who we are. Others challenging these generalized ideas can be seen as them challenging who we are. Therefore, we may incorrectly believe that insulting our religion/ideology/political affiliation is insulting who we are.
If one has generalized about people in the religious right in a negative way, he or she will typically keep that generalization even when someone from the religious right acts in a way counter to his or her expectations. This pattern of rejecting new information is hardly developmental.
Generalizations are false on many levels.
One’s belief that that all members of Group A are [insert belief here] is wrong. First, membership in Group A is not clear. What does it take to be a member of any ethnic group, gender, social class, or religion? Second, thinking that everyone in Group A is the same is also wrong.
Generalizations are dangerous. In addition, they are the opposite of diversity. Lastly, generalizations are often wrong. Can you go a day, a week, a month without generalizing?