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  • Writer's pictureMindy McCarthy

The Dangers of Generalizations

We have been witnessing various events that have seemed to divide our country more and more. It seems that it becomes so easy to make generalizations about groups of people instead of treating them as an individual.

Let’s examine some examples that you may have experienced or thought yourself on a regular basis.

If you are driving and someone cuts you off, have you ever thought, “Wow, that person is a terrible driver!”

Instead of thinking about how they may have made a mistake this one time or they may be in a hurry to get to an emergency situation, you automatically generalize this one driving situation that you witnessed to their driving abilities as a whole.

However, when it comes to you being the one to cut someone off in traffic (accident or not), you try to apologize to them in a way saying you made that one mistake or maybe you are the one in a hurry to an emergency situation. When it is you doing the action, you want to attribute it to the certain situation rather than generalize it to your driving abilities or you as a person.

In this world where we have a pandemic and some states or counties are recommending or requiring face masks to be worn in public, some people find themselves generalizing the behaviors of other people who may not be wearing a mask. These people can think that the person not wearing a mask is being selfish or not concerning himself with other people’s health or even that he does not stay up to date with what is going on in our world.

However, if you were the person not wearing a mask, what are some of the thoughts that run through your mind? I am willing to bet you would be thinking about how you forgot your mask this one time, or you have a medical condition that is detrimental for you if you were to wear a mask.

Again, in this example we find ourselves being more lenient on our own behavior compared to when others might do the same behavior.

You can even see generalizations about people protesting right now, too. While some people are taking advantage of the situation by rioting and looting, that does not mean everyone protesting has not shown peace to others. Why do we find ourselves generalizing these protests based on the actions of a few?

How can we stop this cycle of generalizing one little piece of information that we gather about someone to their overall personality or behaviors?

When you find yourself attributing personality characteristics to someone you have seen for only a few minutes of their lives, stop and think about what you are saying. Think about times where you may have found yourself in a similar situation, or even tell yourself that maybe that person is having a difficult day and should be shown some grace no matter what they are going through.

If you see a small group of people doing certain actions, stop and think about why it is unreasonable to attribute those actions to an entire group of people.

I encourage you to think about those times where you are generalizing someone’s behavior based on a small amount of information as I am sure you would expect the same should be done for you.

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