Generalization, A Strategy That Helps Us And Betrays Us

Maybe you don’t know … but you have a mental software or program that makes you generalize things constantly …  Anyway, do you know the effect this has on your life?

We all have a system of generalizations that operates on automatic pilot, allowing us to be quick and congruent with our own identity. Thanks to these we pack and label all the information with which we are bombarded every second, to immediately think and act.

Otherwise, if we were to pay attention to each individual piece of data, no matter how minute, every minute of our lives would become an exhausting process and extremely slow to analyze and digest, leaving us so overloaded to the point of collapsing and not being able to function mentally anymore.

How does generalization work?

For example: you are attending your store, when someone enters the door wearing strange clothes, with a cheap tattoo on their face, a tense face that looks sideways while checking the premises, and also comes carrying a package in his pocket that clearly looks like a revolver.

At that point you probably already know that he is a thief, that he can hurt you or take your money with him. In a split second you look around to make sure who is in the business and immediately press the button that you have under the counter alerting the police and taking shelter from them.

All of this happened in perhaps less than 5 seconds, thanks to a fantastic and effective system that generalized all the data that you sensually obtained from that situation to reach the conclusion that it was an assailant.

If you had thought long and hard about what was perceived, the result could have been very different. You could have made many assumptions like: maybe he is badly dressed because he lives on the street; Maybe he has a tattoo on his face because maybe he was in prison, and if he was in prison, why would he have been?

Perhaps you are tense because you have just had a fight with your partner or because you have a financial debt; or perhaps what you carry in your pocket is a simple screwdriver because you are fixing your car, precisely that is the reason for its dirt, etc. etc. 

Wanting to know more about him, who he is, and why he is there, could have led you to death, or on the contrary, at the same time it could have led you to meet a charming person who in the future would help you fix your car .

As human beings we have created ways of deciding, formulas that guide our thoughts and actions in an effective way, leading us to assume who we are and what surrounds us. We can also call these generalizations beliefs or convictions. What is money What is love? What is the best soccer team? How would the problems of your country be solved? Why did my friend tell me this?

Your answers to these questions, what you assume, are your particular beliefs, your own and original way of interpreting the world, it is not anyone else’s, as much as it seems impossible that it is not how you see it from your perspective. Sure … they make sense because they are your beliefs, your conclusions, they even give the impression that they are the only way in which reality is expressed, the pure truth.

However, this is not so. These generalizations that have formed in the past, based on the interpretations of that specific moment (again, only interpretations, not the reality itself) just help you to be yourself and act quickly and unconsciously based on them. There are no unique beliefs, probably just yours.

This system works perfectly defending the status quo , the prevailing situation, keeping the established course, your old and usual vision of the world: “I have the ideas well placed in your head!” But … What happens when the results you get are not what you want? What happens when your reality is not what you dreamed of?

What if you believed that all French people are all dirty and moody, when do you meet a beautiful French woman? What would happen if I did not send a resume to apply for a job that exceeds my current training? What if I didn’t taste squid because I’ve never liked fish?

Yes… I would probably miss meeting a beautiful person who could potentially be the woman of my life simply because she is French; or I would miss the chance to find a job that is better than what I expected, in which I will learn more than I expected, because I believed it was impossible to hire someone without sufficient knowledge.

I would even be missing a great opportunity to eat squid just because generalizing I assumed that I would not like them because I do not like fish that comes from the sea, therefore what comes from the sea does not appeal to me.

Any type of change that you intend in life, by nature must contradict certain pre-established assumptions (in forms of generalizations) so that you obtain a different result than the one you have been having. It will no longer serve you to know EVERYTHING you know, because that is a mirror of your reality, of what has already been given, of the facts. .. and if you want some kind of change, reality is not what you want.

Therefore… observe what you assume, what you generalize, what you believe.

Depending on where you want to go, what you want to be different, ask yourself:

What meaning do I give to this event?
Is it the only possible meaning?
What have I based on?
What would happen if the perspective changed?
If instead of generalizing the fact, I stopped to think about other possible perspectives, what would it be like?
What if I judged from other people’s perspective as if it were my own?

Generalizations help us to survive, to be true to our identity, and to be more functional. But, definitely, they are great obstacles to change, even to be open to new experiences. When they don’t let you advance: (men / women are…., Life is ……., Work is …… .., money is …… .. etc.) you must question them and open yourself to new experiences.

In conclusion, generalizations are a double-edged sword; on the one hand, they allow us to quickly draw conclusions from many situations, reaching general premises.

However, on the other hand, generalizing may limit our direct experience with the environment, since we believe that our thinking is the only one and that it is fixed.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *