Because we generalize too soon….

While I was in New Delhi recently, I had an interaction with a Canadian lady who had just landed in India. After about an hour of light hearted conversation, she said “You Indians are really cheerful“. To which, I politely replied “You still can’t say that lady, you have only met one Indian in me…. there are many out there who aren’t so

She was taken aback by my response “So you mean to say Indians are dull”. I clarified, saying “I didn’t say that either, I just meant that like any other society, we are also a mix of all kinds of people. You simply can’t categorize us as one type

She left a few minutes later, half confused and half enlightened.


During the conversation, I came across a strange bent of mind that we humans have – The eagerness to generalize the specifics. We have this amazing knack of forming a certain image for the whole group of people (or things) purely on the basis of our encounter with one or two of their members.

We are quick to pounce on any and every opportunity that we get to characterize them under our predefined perceptions, and then generalize those for the whole group. And that can be a hazardous exercise.

Mahatma Gandhi was a Gujrati, but so was Nathuram Godse.  Imagine how different would the notion of Gujrat be for two people who make sweeping assumptions on account of these two contrasting examples, while neither of these paint the real picture. Within every assemblage, there is good, and there is bad. There is beauty, and there is gloom. There is justice, and there inequity. But in truth, the reality lies somewhere in between these extremes.

We don’t throw away the match box, just because the first stick doesn’t ignite…. we try every subsequent one until the box goes empty. But where does this spirit go while dealing with humankind ?


The tendency to generalize stagnates one’s mind. Perceptions are simply the virtual pills we take to comfort our intellect, when it is unable to comprehend the authentic.

Having said that, I do believe that its too difficult not to be metaphysical. But before generalizing, at least make sure that your sample size is large enough…. that is what mathematics tells you. Make sure you try every matchstick before you discard the box as a whole…. and also make sure that your hands aren’t wet while you do so.

That is how you will know… or at least come close 🙂

PS: Biology is one field where specifics form the generic… but life ain’t just simple biology.

2 responses to “Because we generalize too soon….”

  1. simple thought.. conveyed nicely. I specialy liked the comparison with matchbox.. good going.. keep it up..

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