I was talking to a friend about relationship issues when she said, “You know sometimes what happens, you think that you’re going somewhere in the relationship and then something happens and you realize that you’re stuck. Or worse, you’re actually moving backward instead of moving forward. So many times you have to give in to the needs and the demands of the other and for what. You get nothing in return. Nothing.”
A bit dramatic don’t you think. But that not was what I was noticing at the time. She was in a dramatic mood when she said this. What I was noticing was the consistent use of the word “You” when she actually meant “I”.
All that she said was not happening in general to everybody but to her in particular. Yet she was constantly saying “You”.
Take another story: A friend said to me, “After leaving non-vegetarian food for good, you begin to realize what you were eating all this while. For all these years I was eating without thinking too much. But when you leave it, you realize that you were eating flesh of another animal. Otherwise you enjoy it till you don’t stop eating meat.”
And I had to ask her if it’s you or I that she meant.
I have observed this as a habit in us as individuals. We tend to generalize things which happened personally to us. I tend to generalize things that happened personally to me. Think about you and you’ll find similar such instances with yourself also where you have generalized personal experiences.
The question is Why? Why do we generalize?
A few common reasons could be:
- The feeling of being vulnerable
- Fear of being judged by the other
- Fear of being in the spotlight
- Avoid being in an uncomfortable situation
- Not wanting to own something because it hasn’t been ‘scientifically proved’ yet
- Avoid an argument if the other person begins cross questioning. This happens particularly when we are adopting something new based on an inner feeling and to which we don’t have a logical justification yet.
Rest assured for all practical purposes, I means I, You means You, and We means We. In the colloquial language the next time you speak with someone, pay attention to the I, the You and the We that you use and try to find for yourself why you’re doing so.
Alternatively as a fun exercise you can also spot the I, You and We of the other person! A lot of times you’ll find them using the same kind of generalizations. Correcting people over these small things can bring an interesting flavor to conversations!
Think-it-over: Why do you think we use generalizations and not own up to our situations and decisions? Is there an apparent unsaid fear and guilt that is playing its role? Or is there anything besides these feelings?
In a high-context culture like ours, a lot of things in a conversation are left to the assumption of the listener. We only give cues and leave things unsaid or use generalizations to communicate our message.
This is an attempt to be more clear and transparent and to own our conversations and do it in the best possible way that we can.