Today’s topic is brief. Please do not let the brevity mislead you into thinking the topic is unimportant. I believe the point is very important because the idea applies to so many areas of our thinking, writing and speaking.
I have been trying something that has helped me be more positive in my speech and thinking. My task is to think with a little word that when used properly makes a huge positive impact on my life. The word is a simple word but thinking with it and using it in speech and writing makes the difference between stereotyping and a more thoughtful understanding of reality.
The word is SOME … only four letters. Grammatically it can be an adverb, adjective, pronoun, and determiner. The small word packs a powerful impact.
Consider the difference between saying —
Whites are … versus … some whites are
Police are … versus … some police are
Blacks are … versus … some blacks are
Democrats are … versus … some Democrats are
Republicans are … versus … some Republicans are
Christians are … verses … some Christians are
Jews are … versus … some Jews are
Muslims are … verses … some Muslims are
Asians are … verses … some Asians are
Alabamians are … versus … some Alabamians are
Women are … versus … some women are
Men are … versus … some men are
the church is … versus … some churches are
Conservatives are … versus … some conservatives are
Liberals are … versus … some liberals are
and on and on
Frequently I hear news commentators, see headlines and read articles in which claims are made about whites, police, Blacks, Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Asians, Alabamians, women. men, the church, liberals, and conservatives. They should be using the determiner some for each of those categories. Facebook and ignorant internet comments are particularly rife with this stupidity. To say police are …, or Blacks are …, or whites are … is seldom accurate, but to say some police are …, or some Blacks are …, or some whites are … can be accurate.
When people fail to delimit a category using the word some, then they are speaking and writing as if all members of the category think, feel and behave alike. That clearly meets the meaning of stereotyping. If they referred to some and defined what is meant, then they could be making accurate statements.
Why do we do it? To lump people into one category does not require thinking.. Lumping is easier and often irresponsible. If you say some, then you have to work to define the characteristics that separate some from others. Defining takes effort. In addition, when faced with a member of the category discerning whether he or she falls into the some or the other segment of the category takes effort.
Okay what is an example?
I have heard people say cops are racist. To say some cops are racist is a powerful change in meaning. The second statement is more accurate because not all cops are racist. The first statement is stereotyping. I have often heard it uttered by the very people who decry being stereotyped.
If you argue some cops are racist the task of discernment takes effort. Which cops are racist and which are not?
The powerful change in meaning and the challenge of discernment occurs when people make claims about any of the categories: Men are chauvinists, women are teases, whites are racists, Alabamians are racists, Blacks are trouble makers, Christians are hypocrites, Jews are …, Muslims are …, Asians are …, etc. etc. etc. We need to do better.
Our political scene is particularly volatile right now and the problem is in no small part a function of the failure to think with that simple little word with the powerful punch — some. Acknowledging some Democrats are …, some Republicans are…, would do a lot toward reducing volatility.
I hope I am making a clear statement. I believe we would all live in a better world, a more positive world if we used the simple word – some — to make distinctions. We cannot control others but we can call them into question when they stereotype and we certainly can control our own thinking, speaking and writing.