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Thursday, October 3, 2013


When we use labels to identify people, such as “Texans,” “Russians,” “Coulters,” “Hispanics,” “Cheerleaders,” or “Cops,” we automatically generalize the individuals who make up the group.  Those generalizing terms tend to erase (in our minds) the uniqueness of individuals, boxing them into categories.  Those categories come with a long list of assumptions that often DO NOT fit the individuals. 

For instance, I know some “Christians” who don’t manifest or even profess the tenets of the Christian faith.  There is no “Hispanic” culture (there’s a bazillion of them).  All “Texans” do not carry guns.  Many “country folks” are the furthest thing from being bumpkins (in case you didn’t notice, I just used two generalizations in the same sentence).

I’ve been trying, with great difficulty, to think and speak of people as individuals rather than as abstractions.  It's been a tough learning journey (last sentence in the paragraph above is case in point).  My education, my exposure to media, and the predominant political rhetoric have all predisposed me to thinking of individuals as representations of broader categories, which are nothing more than abstractions.  And often, if not always, those abstractions are the furthest thing from the truth.

People are NOT abstractions.  Thomas Sowell (2013) discusses this point saliently in his book titled Intellectuals and Race.  When we talk about, or think about, others in terms of the groups/labels to which we assign them, we have in effect erased them as individuals.

Though it's been a daunting re-learning process, I am convinced that moving away from thinking of and treating people as abstractions will make me a much better person and servant-leader.

Others, YOU, deserve to be seen by me as an individual, not as an abstraction. 

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