Monday, April 18, 2005

Sweeping Generalizations

When I first met my wife she grilled me pretty good. She wanted to make sure that I was worth her time and effort. Thank goodness I passed her test. One thing that she would correct me for doing early on was making sweeping generalizations, repeating hearsay and stereotyping. Even if it was a positive thing. Example: "Women are really good at listening." She would tell me that there were all kinds of women and that some were good at listening and some weren't. She's right. At the time I wasn't sure if she was just being confrontational with me or not. Now that we know each other better those kinds of things don't come up in our conversations.

I do see these kinds of things coming up everyday though. I see them on television "news" programs and on the internet on different forums and blogs. One thing that I think we really need to get back to is talking about what we know to be true as individuals. I once was having a discussion with a Republican and he justified his own racism by saying that they are preaching hatred of white people in black, inner city churches. I stopped him right there and asked him when the last time he stepped foot in a black, inner city church was? Of course I knew the answer was never and that brought the discussion back to what we each knew and not what someone heard from someone to be true.

It's kind of like the way urban legends spread. It's always a friend of a friend (foaf) that was bit by a spider and burst out with a million baby spiders. It's never someone you know directly. Nowadays people on tv are speculating and then other people hearing it repeat the speculation as if it were news. "I heard on tv the other day that Hillary Clinton hates veterans!"

If we could just cut down on the speculation, sweeping generalizations and stereotypes I think we could make a huge dent in the rhetoric and bring this country together again. We all have more in common than you would learn from the idiotic tv pundits. But that statement would be a sweeping generalization and my wife would not approve.


It's Lisa, y'all said...

Okay, I love sweeping generalizations! I also love getting busted for using sweeping generalizations, and Les busts me all the time. However, it seems that he finds my sweeping generalizations sometimes very funny, which only encourages me.

In the defense of stereotypes,I once was in a psych class where they talked about the fact that if we never had the ability to use stereotypes or generalizations every experience would seem completely new to us, and therefore kind of difficult to deal with. On a basic level, the ability to see something as similar to something else makes the world easier to deal with because it seems not so strange.

I'm not trying to disagree with you that stereotypes can be very damaging and bad, especially to groups of people who are already getting "the short end of the stick." But I am standing up as a person who has a very difficult time imagining a day when stereotypes will be a rarity. We like putting things into boxes.

eytch said...

I think this whole thing has been one big generality.