Enough Generalizing!

Everyone does it. We all have to stop.

Fiona Cameron Lister
9 min readJan 12, 2022

Image: Geralt for Pixabay

When you are a Brit in Italy the temptation to use stereotypes is almost overwhelming. I can’t tell you how many expats, usually English, I have met who spend a disproportionate amount of time telling you what “the Italians” are like, what they do, how they behave, and how much better “the British way” of doing things is. This covers punctuality, workmen, bureaucracy, food, the family — you name it. Although it is quite seductive to join in, I have trained myself to stop every time I am about to use the phrase “the Italians” and ask myself a simple question: “What? All of them?” Because lumping together a nationality, or a race, or a group and then making general, and often inaccurate, observations is to indulge in that most heinous crime — sloppy, lazy thinking.

It is all too easy to use words like “all” or “every” or “never” or “always” or “no” plus the label of your choice: “Italians, Democrats, antivaxxers, women, celebrities, scientists, Trump supporters, priests, teachers, Generation X, Baby Boomers, teenagers, writers…” and then make a statement that fails to acknowledge any filament of nuance or individuality within those groups. This results in devastatingly inaccurate, unthought-through comments like: “Scots are tight-fisted,” “All antivaxxers are idiots,”, “Kids today are always on their phones,” and so on.

Teenagers these days — always on their phones! Images: Pixabay

Danger in disguise

Generalizing may seem an innocuous activity. What harm is there is making sweeping statements? A lot, as it happens, particularly if you are in the public eye. British Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Angela Raynor, certainly caused a lot of ill feeling with her September 2021 description of all Conservatives as “homophobic, racist, misogynistic … banana republic, vile, nasty, Etonian… scum.” The impact was even more dreadful because it came just before the murder of Tory Member of Parliament, Sir David Amess.

To be politically even-handed, clichéd, stupid generalizations also come from the right: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson caused huge offence when, as editor of The Spectator, he accused the citizens…

Fiona Cameron Lister

Experienced British writer/editor/writing coach in Italy | MWC semi-finalist| Loves words, history, humour, unusual subjects| Contact: fcameronlister@gmail.com