“All generalisations are wrong.”
This is the startling opening statement of Cecile Simpleton the United Nations director who is in the process of launching a UN program to eliminate the use of generalisations in common language. The program is called the United Nations Against Generalisations (pronounced U-NAG).
Ms Simpleton goes onto say that when people make generalisations they are making sweeping statements about another group of people and her research has shown that these generalisations are causing misunderstandings, unhappiness, hatred and even wars.
“For example”, she comments, “any sentence that begins with all Muslims, all men or all foreigners is by definition going to be racist, sexist or xenophobic. It is also going to be wrong since ‘all’ – meaning without exception – is a very high bar to set across a whole group of humans whose most obvious attribute is their diversity.”
The UN perspective is to stop it at source by eliminating generalisations from the vocabulary.
“This ban will force people to think more closely about what they are saying,” comments Ban Ki-moon, UN General Secretary.
Ms Simpleton in conversation with me digs deeper: “a person might want to say ‘all Muslims are terrorists’. Noting the ban on generalisations, they do some more research and then they might say, ‘0.001% of Muslims in the US are involved in terrorist activity’. The phrase has a different feel to it, no?
“Or instead of saying that all men are criminals, they would say, ‘while criminals are almost all men, most men are not criminals’, and further observe, ‘there are many good men around and some men are really quite meek’. It helps to change your perspective, agreed?” as she finishes with a sweet smile.
She also tells me that their research shows that generalisations are a strong indicator of the speaker’s prejudice and ignorance. For example, a person starting a sentence ‘all Frenchman ….’ is certainly going to have very little understanding of the diversity and culture of the large country of France and is almost certainly going to be holding a grudge against the French. It is all a question of education, she says.
“We have many more examples. Always it is the generalisation that is the problem.
“I think we have found a way to solve all humankind’s problems with one simple UN program”, she says with a flourish.