I am not the person down the street, the story you heard yesterday or a statistic on a piece of paper. We are people, each with our individual differences. Why are people so compelled to focus more on similarities than difference?
When my son was on treatment for a brain tumour, we would often receive well meaning phone calls from people who had "just caught this show on t.v. about breast cancer". Some days I was reduced to simple syllables and was unable to be drawn into the ignorance; a small sympathetic part of me (hanging on by a thread) knew they "just wanted to help". Did they stop before picking up the phone and consider an anaplastic astroyctoma in the brain stem may share the same superordinate level of categorisation yet is a 46 year old woman, a 52 year old man the same as a 16 month old child who has neither touched a drop of alcohol, a cigarette, had a sexual relationship or roasted his tender skin in the sun or voluntarily put his body through any of the contributing risk categories which will see him loose the chance to go to school, marry, have children, live a life. No they didn't stop and they don't think.
I've been reduced to every box, category and similarity you can think of and not just by the professionals. In my younger more feisty days I had the strength and stupidity to try and highlight the ignorance, now I smile, grab a cup of tea and pick my battles more wisely. It helps me identify who really gives a crap about who I am, where I am going and how I feel and really who doesn't, who needs to reduce me to the person down the street or the chick in a magazine due to the fact that so many complex issues are outside their comprehension in one person, so let's just keep it simple shall we!
It isn't a relatively new soap box topic of mine and many who know me are aware it has this way of pushing a tucked away button everytime when someone over generalises about human beings, particulary mmmwwwaa!. If we could so easily help each other or judge based on the colour of our skin (OM...Gosh...imagine assuming all white people were the same, now that's a hornets nest waiting for a poke!).
Everyday in every corner of the globe our lives are being reduced, minimised to tiny categories of generalisation. It encourages individuals to ignore the differences and focus on the similarities, to judge, to make assumptions, to foster ignorance, it breeds apathy and strips away from humanity the fundamental evolutionary strengths gifted to us which bring us and hold us together.
If you were to focus for one day on how many groups you contribute to, promote and use everyday, then how this impacts on your thinking, how you relate to your family, your friends, loved ones, strangers and ask yourself to do you struggle against it or are you one of the easily led who has so little reality, implicit learning in which to draw from so they are reduced to magazines, newspaper articles and the person down the street to compare people to; you would discover a window of opportunity to change yourself and change the way you impact on others.
We are not numbers or things and there are times when similarities aid us in providing support, treatment and getting jobs done! The DSMV is not an instruction booklet, nor the New Idea, they are different forms of helping us better understand human needs. If you picked up a new piece of IKEA with or without instructions how would you approach it? Did you know it tells a lot about how you approach anything!. Human beings have no instructions. Our behaviours do not define us, they are guidelines to understanding who we are, don't confuse the two! We can learn to understand triggers and motivations for behaviour, how we process information, a lot of what we do and say is predictable. How you live in your home, where you place your items, what items, what you eat, how you speak, what career you've chosen, partner, how you raise your children, how you communicate with others, with yourself; yes all this information gives hints as to who we are and what drives and motivates us! It's one of the most interesting aspects of being human, why we are who we are and why we do what we do. Yet like a doctor learning about the impact of choices on his health, you start learning more about human behaviour and realise the type of relationships you have enabled!
Human beings are driven by two forms of processing information, the big words are experiential and rational yet basically it comes down to the heart (experiential) and the head (rational) thinking/processing, resulting in how we behave and act. Most people assume the head rules, in fact most our decisions are made through implicit learning, through the experiential system; experiences, interpretation of events, personally meaningful, a system so powerful it has a great deal to do with how the head makes its choices! Hence why despite people being made aware of their irrational thinking and choices, they will still go ahead and do it anyway!
Hence reducing someone you care about, even in a professional capacity, reducing people to pre-planning your help completely negates their experiences, everything before that very moment that has brought them to this point! Now let's not over generalise about generalising! I'm talking about HELP people, when you want to connect with other human beings, sometimes you just need to LISTEN!
It is not statistically or humanly possible to have two people the same, it can't be done. The environment, our childhoods, our life, living, every single event, our genes make up who we are.
Two women in their 40's (yep this would be an easy example) one has recently experienced the loss of someone and breakdown of her marriage, the other as well, if this is the only two things which you identify as similarities how could you possibly group these two people in the same category? Do they have children? the same number, same gender, did their marriage breakdown for the same reasons, what was their husbands like, families, extended family, support, where do they live, are they both financially secure, do they eat, live, work the same, have the same professions, the same schooling, have they experienced the same traumas in life, has one had fortune and the other hasn't, do they even have similar personalities, is there really anything similar about these women other than a couple of simple categories? Forty years people! Forty years of living has brought these two women to this point, don't ignore all that because it makes it easier for you rather than actually listening, actually hear their differences, if you truly understand the meaning of help, it has nothing to do with preconceived ignorant notions and everything to do with listening, hearing and being present in the moment.
I've seen it time and time again with children, with people with mental health illness, with trauma; when we treat people as if they are just like the last and the next you will miss the very difference which can help. Each child is different, not just due to gender, age and appearance; they have their own interests, likes, dislikes, for goodness sake something as basic as the order in which they were born will impact on who they become, you will treat them differently so why assume they are the same?
Advice is well meaning, I get that, people try from the heart (well....most), you cannot stand there and criticise another person for their choices in life, for their motivations, tell them when it's time to move on, let go, get their crap together or stop feeling sorry for themselves, if you really haven't bothered to hear them out, talked the talk and walked their walk! Be the bird! "If you are a bird, I am a bird"..(The Notebook).
The most common mistake people make in over generalising is in relationships. Individuals compare partners, friends compare friends, their partners; families compare each other. We neither love the same or act the same with each person, so why would you expect someone to treat everyone they come into contact the same, aside from common values, morals and basic manners! You need to weigh the individual differences, ask yourself what does this person need?
Categories, statistics help; they help professionals, statiticians, management and politicians so let's leave that to them. We need categories, they have their purpose, life is full of groups, sub groups and institutional size sameness. Categories help to minimise risk, identify it and provide treatment and care. However, even for the professionals they too are separated by the bad, the good and the ones who actually contribute to making a difference, simply by those who identify through attention to detail the individual differences which separates each person with depression, each person grieving, each person who experiences loss, has a diagnosis, needs help.
I would bet you each have a story of misdiagnosis somewhere in there. I can tell you more than a few. Even the professionals get it wrong and they do so spectacularly! I would hedge another bet that each time it is through their failure to look at individual differences, to shoosh their opinions, beliefs and stories in their mind and listen to the tiny details which make this person, what separates their needs, what makes them different to all others with the a similar diagnosis, similar experience, similar lifestyle.
One of the challenges I have on blogging and even Crackbook is generalising has become such a widespread disease you make a simple statement and I guarantee, like firing a round of heat seeking missles, the information seems to be absorbed by those who assume the purpose of your day is to get up and shoot them down! Oh please! 9 out of 10 times I'm discussing an action, a behaviour, an assumption, not a person.
Stereotyping people is such a damaging form of abuse on each other; it infects our core beliefs and values, it can only be irradicated by your refusal to treat all people the same, to challenge the pattern of behaviour which compares your children, partner, friend, family member, colleague, random person in the street "the same" because they look, dress, talk or have the same marital status or illness! These generalisations about children, women, men, married women, divorced men, violence, crime, mental illness, cultures at the opportune times when we can make a difference are neither helpful or use our gifts well. When you stop assuming, you stop making an ass out of u and me!
Nowhere in life are assumptions so devestating, is stereotyping more harmful than in the crime of sexual assault. With conviction rates in NSW less than 1.6% some years, estimations of over 60,000 (including hospital admissions, crisis services and Police reports) victims and yet so few convictions due to the myths, lies and stereotypes people believe about victims of sexual assault! Just because you carry money in your wallet should you expect to be robbed? When then should a woman who wears a certain clothing, career, stays out late, smiles at someone or even rides a damn bus should expect to be the victim of such an horrific crime! Come on people stop and think before you speak, before you spread the infection of sterotyping.
Now if you are one of those reading this and you can already hear that voice inside your head forming it's assumptions, you haven't heard a thing. You are one of those who need to hear this.
When we talk to people and compare them to someone else who had a similar, yes people, similar not the same experience, we minimise their individual stories to becoming irrelevant, to lack meaning, it tells them you already have a plan to fix them (by the way they are not broken), you may have thought about this before even having a chat, already decided where to file their issues, you have a plan and the most important person in this plan was never consulted!
Believe me it is ingrained in us!
I've worked in catergory driven environments; when you conduct risk assessment, observe behaviour you are looking for similarities, yet never in on my worst days would I ignore the differences, something as simple as a person's pattern and history tells us their story, tells us what brought them to this point, gives us sign posts, what went wrong, what needs to go right and how we can help. Listen people, listen! Look for the signs, for the differences, hear their unspoken words, treat others as you would like to be treated.
Look at the stranger in the street, regardless of their clothing with an open heart and mind, try giving unconditionally to a friend, without judgement, even when they can't give back (yep that would be an expectation, that is your problem not theirs). Take the time to share our gifts, to reach out to each other in our times of need, to listen, to feel and to connect with each other; to make a difference, to be the difference you want to see.