When people get into a fight, there is often a cry to separate, to step back, provide both parties to stop and reflect upon their actions. Many arguments and conflicts are caused by misunderstandings. Many misunderstandings arise from a tendency to generalise. People generalise to make help make sense of the world, to simplify.
In my recent conversations with people about the murder of journalists in Paris this week, I have often found myself as the standard barer of the idea of separating and not generalising. It is wrong to cast aspersions on an entire group of people, or people who identify with a particular belief. It is also wrong to suggest that all ‘members’ of a group are responsible for the actions of individuals with whom they share some label. For example if a murder occurs in Wales, as a Welshman I am not to blame for the murder, nor should I apologise to the world on behalf of Welsh people. Whilst all Welsh people are Welsh, as individuals we all define that sense of identity in a different way.
People often get upset or angry by events. When we become upset, there is a tendency to blame others, there is often no immediately apparent cause of the problem so people look for generalisations, and the labels generated from generalisations come to the for. One might, for example blame all women for a relationship floundering. However, it is perhaps neglected that when there is a misunderstanding it is due to the failure of the generalisation, than some more rare personality trait is not understood.
There is a sense of the tyranny of the perceived majority, which is often heightened by the media. For example that men are only after sex and not committed relationships. Sometimes, people take comfort from the logic of using generalisations to form conclusions for a communication breakdown, it gives a sense of a matter being settled. i would argue that often misunderstandings arise from people making generalisations and a disregard for the separateness of individuals, for ‘exceptions to the rule’. Really because as humans we generalise, we often fail to be aware that we are dealing with an individual who is different and not all generalisations apply to any individual.As a society we are not less homogenised, we live in a multi-cultural society, yet still retain the trappings of class, the traditional form of difference in a society.
This loss of social rules and social conformity is a triumph. It has freed individuals from feeling that they should act or think in a particular way. It also places a burden on the individual to assess the morality of their thoughts and actions individually and often there isn’t the time and space to do this thoroughly. Often a solution is to adopt or buy into a particular philosophy as a general way to simply exist and get on with things, whilst recognising that every system has it’s flaws and weaknesses as well. However following the dictates of any particular creed or rule system, will inevitable cause the followers of another system harm, inadvertently at some point.
For example, wearing of the burka. To me, as a western feminist, women should be free to wear what they want and not have their choice of clothes dictated by any particular greed or gender group. Men should respect women by not harassing them for any choice of clothing they may make. So, if I were to completely adopt this creed I would be disapproving of women wearing the burka, advocating that the burka has no place in society. This is wrong, as I would be applying my creed to someone else. Women have the right to wear the burka if they wish to. in any case, the feminist creed has not fully succeeded in removing the harassment of women in the street in society, no creed can claim any superiority over the other.
I was once involved in a rather farcical clash of cultures once on a London bus. I got onto the bus, there was only one spare seat, next to a woman, which I sat in. The woman got up from her seat, presumably as her creed was that she shouldn’t sit next to strange men. My creed dictated that I should give up my seat for a woman, so I got up and indicated that the lady should resume her seat, which she did. On my last visit to London, on the tube (underground railway), the lady opposite who was nursing a young child, gave up her seat to an elderly lady who had just got on the train. I then gave up my seat to the lady with the child!
I am British, the British are often criticised for apologising whenever things go awry. Actually this is healthy thing to do, it is a correct admission that no-one is perfect, that this lack of perfection has caused some trouble to someone else. That the reasons or a difficulty is that we are all different and working out the exact thing we are apologising for is most of the time not worth trying to work out, or at least should be remembered for when the person has to time to stop and reflect.
My own problem was that I would overly worry and assess my own failings, rather than admit to never being perfect and get on with living, to accept that people are always going to misunderstand me and I others, with no intended malice. I didn’t do this partly as I allowed the differences and misunderstanding to effect me, when it is something that just happens. Learning to tolerate the differences in others is something i could always do, what i lacked was freeing myself of the fear of my own status as someone separate of inadvertently offending others.
People should be less hasty to judge both other individuals and labelable groups, not try and dictate how others from different backgrounds should behave (all our backgrounds are different), but rather accept the separateness of us all as individuals and do our best to get along with one another.