Why generalizations are too militant
“Them thar’s fightin’ words,” says one hillbilly to another. The phrase basically means that someone has made a statement of logic asserting something to be true of all people of a certain race or class or ethnicity or in some cases politics.
We all use generalizations as if they were facts.
Generalization: all women are bad drivers
Fact: Men are more likely to be involved in serious accidents than women. Men also tend to speed more and drive more aggressively and lose attention more quickly when multi-tasking while driving than women do.
Generalization: People are poor because they do not study in school or want to work hard.
Fact: Drop out rates among poor people are seven times greater than those of wealthy people. The main cause of high school drop outs – to go to work to help out the family. Fifty three percent of college graduates are jobless, regardless of their grades or work ethics and there are twice as many college graduates working minimum wage jobs in 2014 than in 2010.
Those are just two generalizations which hold some truth, but do not stand up under scrutiny.
Statistics can be used to support just about any cause. One study may find that drinking alcohol is good for the heart, while another finds that it increases your risk of various cancers, liver disease and heart failure.
Studies twenty years ago say that coconut oil and saturated fat from meat is bad for the diet. Current studies show that coconut oil has health benefits and saturated fat is less responsible for blocking arteries than table sugar. This sweet tooth addict who eats no meat and recently had an ultrasound on her carotid arteries that found 0 percent blockage begs to differ, though admittedly needs to cut down on the sugar. Still one wonders if the studies are true or false and why so many people believe them to be the gospel while others think they are utter rubbish.
In any event, suffice it to say that generalized statements that assert something is true based on the findings of one study or one’s opinions can lead to a war of words or go beyond that to physical fighting.
When you become militant about something, you believe aggressively in something and will fight for the cause, calling all other’s knowledge and wisdom into question with the specific charge to start a battle against them to prove your side is right and their side is wrong. Sounds a lot like the two party American democratic system doesn’t it?
Unfortunately, while it is great to present statistics and view points on all sides of an argument, the noisiest, most aggressive arguments often tend to become the most projected and protected by those who adopt them. Scare tactics and suggested government cover-ups and fears that we are being lied to so we will take the wrong path to our destruction are also called into play.
Here we enter into the realm of rhetoric and dogma. Rhetoric is the over use of exaggerations to put down someone else’s viewpoint to make your own look better. It is persuasive speech like, “America is the greatest country in the world,” or “youth these days have no concept of how difficult life can be.”
While America has a lot of good things going for it, so do other countries and there are millions of youth who struggle with the difficulties of life, though many are naïve. Again, general statements contain an element of truth, but leave a lot unsaid and ignore alternative options as equally valid.
Dogma is usually associated with churches and tenets of faith concerning morals and behavior, but it can also mean an established opinion adopted by the majority or the ruling class. Dogmas are often viewed as unquestionable truths and while they may have much evidence to support them, they are often used to silence people who would offer a differing opinion.
Whether you are a rule follower, a rule breaker or someone who sits on the fence not sure which side is right or wrong, thinking all arguments are equally valid, it never hurts to look at the facts and search for alternatives that offer working solutions to a problem while considering the view points of all sides, not just your own.
When students are taught to debate, they are given a controversial topic, such as, “Is abortion good or evil?”
The questions are purposefully worded to bring out strong emotions on either side and students have to look at both sides of the argument, not knowing if they will be called to defend one side or the other until the day of the debate.
Pro abortionists may look at things like forcing a rape or incest victim to carry a pregnancy to full term or what would happen if two million unwanted children were brought into the world to abusive or neglectful parents and how difficult it is to adopt out a child born with fetal alcohol syndrome or addicted to drugs.
Anti-abortionists will point out that murdering a pregnant woman is considered a double homicide, that many children born with birth defects turned out to be influential people with great talents and that a fetus shows brain activity and reacts to sound and movement at a very early stage in development, proving it is a living being demanding respect whether inside or outside the womb.
Such controversies are often unpleasant to both sides as neither party wants to give an ounce of concession to the other party for fear they will appear wrong and the other appear right, but if we are honest about it, both sides have some legitimate issues that need to be addressed.
What would we do if the over one billion fetus’s that had been aborted in the last hundred years were actually born, many with developmental or cognitive issues requiring extensive medical attention and resources? What are we to do about those billions of fetus’s who have had their lives terminated? A better question might be, why do so many women get pregnant when they do not want to have children? But again, there are no easy answers and no winning side. Abortions are not a good thing, but then again, neither is giving birth to children who cannot be sustained on current resources no matter how many adoptive homes took them in.
In this case we see that generalizations are our way of feeling at ease over something that makes us feel uneasy. If we take a stand that abortion is wrong, then we feel good about it. We are doing a right thing and protecting innocent unborn children from those with no mercy and no caring.
If we generalize that preventing women from getting a safe medical abortion is cruel to women and subjects them to the humiliation of being used as a birthing vessel with no say in their own reproductive rights, then we feel secure that we are protecting women’s rights and preventing unwanted children from suffering a far worse fate in life than they would if they were terminated before exiting the womb.
Both sides feel comforted that they are choosing the right path and as long as they surround themselves with like-minded generalized thinkers they are at ease, but let them come across a different thought and the war begins as well as the uneasiness of knowing that the other side does make some valid points as well.
You can’t really agree with both sides. You can see both view points, but at some point you are required to form your own opinion free of the opinions of others. Which side do you choose? Do you battle with yourself over which option is better and go with the side that seems to do the least harm or do you take a different path all together and address the issues that lead up to pregnancy in which case you will still face opposition from those who feel it is wrong to prevent someone from having sex or forcing contraceptives on others to control the conception of children… there is no end. There is no happy road that all may follow. All of life is a battle about something.
Still, if you find yourself condemning others based on generalizations and making them the problem without realizing that we all contribute to the world around us, then you do a disservice to yourself and others.
There is nothing wrong with persuasive arguments, but generalizations that ignore the truth or fail to look at the grand picture and only focus on one small window pane in a giant panel of panes are too often seen as narrow minded and following rhetoric and dogma and not factual information.
I wish I had an answer. Having no opinion either way is just as frustrating as having a strong opinion one way or another. The only advice I can offer is to be open minded, accept that the problem does exist. It is not going away. There were obese people who overate in the Dark Ages and there are obese people today. Blaming someone who is obese for having no will power, does not make obesity and the problems associated with it, go away. Forcing someone who is obese to stop eating so much and exercise more is not acceptable. Encouraging someone to live a healthier lifestyle is an acceptable option and therein lies part of the solution to the battle of the wills.
You cannot make a lazy person be productive by chiding them for being lazy. You can encourage them to be productive by setting good examples for them to follow, encourage they meet deadlines and set limits to the things that distract them from getting a task done.
Examine your language. Are you constantly thinking or saying things like, “all fat people are lazy and have no will power”, “if you can’t afford kids you shouldn’t have them”, “poor people take my money I earned when they don’t deserve it”, “we need to blow them off the planet and show them who is boss”, or “there is no such thing as absolutes and life is no fun if you follow the rules”, then you are a generalist, not a realist.
Being a realist isn’t really fun, not that being a generalist makes you a ball of happy either, but rather than blame a problem on one thing and one thing only, it is a good idea to look at the whole picture and to study the past.
Chances are we will never find solutions to all the problems that plague us. We may never stop wars and never agree on what constitutes a good thing or a bad thing or when a freedom actually enslaves us and causes more harm than good… talk to anyone about alcohol and marijuana use or spanking or not spanking children.
Let it suffice that if your words are causing more arguments than settling them, you need to make a change in your approach. You can have strong opinions, but starting wars because of your opinions is less likely to persuade people to follow your generalizations than if you agree to see their side of it if they agree to see yours and then work together to come up with a solution to lessen the problem so everyone gains something and all become the wiser.
We are all going to have opinions and we are all going to disagree with someone or something and try to persuade others to see things as we see them and that is only human, but if you want to live a more godly life then you need to be less militant with your generalizations and more sensitive of others and gently persuade them to make concessions rather than force them to surrender to your will at gunpoint.