The general problem with generalizing

I have traveled back and forth from New York to Lexington, Kentucky four times per year for more than 10 years. When I first went to Kentucky as a provincial northeasterner I had a general idea about what I thought Kentucky would be like. What I found out was that my pre-conceived idea was, by and large, incorrect. The people were and are and sophisticated, techno-savvy and there are great places to eat in and around the greater Lexington area. Not quite what I had imagined.

Today, when I talk to people about my trips to Kentucky they often roll their eyes and even snicker a bit. They have what they think is a general idea about what it’s like even though they’ve never been there. I am very careful now to not draw conclusions about things with which I have no experience. Of course I will have an idea or anticipation just like everyone else does, but I also want to allow myself to be surprised, while at the same time I want to be willing to challenge my own uneducated perceptions.

The same thing has been true regarding my travels to China. Before my first trip I had perceptions that in general turned out to be just plain wrong, like a country filled with morose, unhappy people living in a Socialist state or people that were unfamiliar with western customs and food that would be so unfamiliar I would not be able to eat. These perceptions like so many are built out of the limited information that is available to people – on television, in books and movies, and in the media.

It makes no sense to me to try to sum up people in places like Lexington, Kentucky or Shenzhen, China or anywhere else for that matter. Some people may fit certain generalizations but far fewer of them fit any particular category than one might imagine. And in so doing that’s how stereotypes are created.

Just because people live in a place does not mean they should be lumped together as being New Yorkers (loud and pushy), Angelinos (from Los Angeles – mellow and laid back) or Kentuckians – backward country bumpkins.

Generalizations are in my view counterproductive and even can be dangerous. We seem to want to make sense out of things by categorizing people either by where they are from, their ethnic or religious background, corporate affiliations or political views. I try very hard to take things as I see them and to not allow preconceived notions to rule my real-life experiences. It’s not always easy that’s for sure.

In general do you think this concept is worth your attention?

About markkolier

Futurist, entrepreneur, left lane driver, baseball lover
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2 Responses to The general problem with generalizing

  1. Pete says:

    You describe what I refer to as “North Easternitis”, most prevalent in the NYC area but also seen a lot in the Boston area. It is a mistaken belief that no where could be as educated, sophisticated, or as special as NY (or Boston). It also spurs the belief that whole world revolves around Manhattan.

    I suffered from this delusion from birth until I moved to the South during HS (1975). I assumed, as did most I knew at the time, that I would be moving to a place where everyone was toothless, uneducated, unsophisticated, and generally kind of dim. It was also assumed the area would be unattractive, old, and beat up. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

    The South I moved to (Charlotte NC) was more modern, cleaner, very well educated, and had an economy that was far superior to the area I left. While the accents took some getting used to I found the people quite intelligent and, in most cases, more aware of the world since they knew they were a part of it instead of an assumption that they were at the center of it.

    I did find the a similar affliction in the south. Their view of NY was that the whole place looked like Manhattan (minus Central Park, basically all concrete, buildings, and asphalt) and they thought New Yorkers framed the whole world in terms of NY. Transplants like myself, who were still in transition, tended to reinforce that notion by our North Easternitis which usually took at least 6 months to a year to mellow.

    People tend to underestimate, or totally mis-understand, things they have no experience with. Just my opinion.


  2. markkolier says:

    And I completely share that opinion. Tanks for your comment Pete.


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