And the reason is called generalisation. While this is a blessing in many contexts, it is as much a bane in certain others.
Firstly, what is a generalisation – generalisation is when we take specific instances that may have happened sometimes or many times and make it true for the rest of time. Sentences like:
“All women are…”
“All men are…”
“All doctors are…”
“You are never…”
“Humans are like this”
“Everyone gets angry”
And so on.
What happens when we generalise? Is generalising bad? Not necessarily. It depends on what are we generalising and what is the effect of that generalising on us. If we generalise good things – let’s say – you experience a taxi driver to be very kind. So, you generalise all taxi drivers are kind – that’s a positive generalisation. It will not cause you mental stress. In the same vein, if you generalise a negative situation to be true of all of that race or all of humanity, or entirely true of that person, now is when you may be inviting trouble. When we generalise, we tend to be closed to possibilities of it being any other way. We are convinced that it is how we say it is.
When we say sentences like – “everyone gets angry”, we no longer have a strong conviction to change. Because we believe every human does, and it is natural, “so let me continue to get angry”. However, if you truly want to change your behaviour, then avoid generalising it. And get specific. What exactly do you do? What makes you do that? Understand yourself. Explore your thought patterns and beliefs that are aiding you in reacting to life the way you do. Observe what specifically needs to change in you, so that you respond better. When you get specific, you become powerful. You are not just a human. You become a powerful human. When a parent says, “As parents, we all get anxious about our children”, you are only choosing to see those parents who are like you and get further anxious. You may fail to notice others who have better ways of responding to similar situations. It is easy for me to say, “as humans, we all behave like this….” versus, “I behave like this…”. It is only when I stop generalising, that I learn more specifically about myself, what influences me, and how I can change for the better.
Sentences like, “I am the kind of a person…” are also huge generalisations about ourselves. When we believe we are that, we remove all possibilities of us being any other way. In other words, we defy the rules of evolution. None of us was ever meant to be stagnant. We were born to change and evolve. That’s why when we resist change too much when we become rigid, it leads to physical and mental disease. Something that was meant to flow, if it stops itself, it will naturally be moving away from its original state, and hence becomes stale. We were not made or born with those thoughts and beliefs that we have today. We have acquired our current ways of being owing to several factors. However, we are not doomed by our acquisitions or possessed by those behaviours and attitudes. There is always a scope/possibility to change provided you are willing. If you are not willing, that’s the beginning of the end. Making strong statements like, “I just can’t, I won’t, I hate, I will never…”, etc makes us more closed to things even before we fully understand them.
For years, I have had strong preferences and opinions. Perhaps there are remnants of that even today. However, every time I find myself having a strong perspective, I question myself rather than accept it instantly. Even as I have anger, irritation or judgments, I refuse to believe whatever I am thinking is true. I understand I am feeling something but not necessarily convincing myself that it is reality. Rather it is my perception of it. That helps me snap out of the states more quickly and be open to reality faster. I realised the best person to call bluff on my thoughts and beliefs is my own self. I can easily convince the world. But I always know the inner truth. So, being honest with myself is liberating to call a bluff and snap out of blind states.
Every behaviour and thought was picked up as a response to something in our life. It helped us in that context. However, if we make it generally true of ourselves, or to use it all the time, in every context then it makes even a healthy behaviour, unhealthy. When we generalise, we miss out on being context-specific and relevant.
If you generalise your personal choices with the rest of humanity, you may miss out on your specific learnings.
If you generalise your future based on your past, then you may shut down possible opportunities for you and your life to be any different. And that causes stagnation.
There’s wisdom in being able to see the past and present for what they are – rather than generalising them in ways that make us ineffective and out of date.
When you believe in your limitations more than you believe in your capacity to change – you have generalised your life for the worse! Sentences like, “I have always been this way” – is a sign that you have resigned to it! You killed a part of you even before you tried or died. Just because you have been a certain way doesn’t mean you are destined or doomed to be that way forever.
So, the question is – are you using words to define or discover the world and yourself? Generalising is defining and being curious means ready to discover.