Guidelines for “Adult” Conversation, #7 – Antidotes for Generalizations, Labels and Insults: Get Specific, Factual, Personal and Aware-of-Others

Welcome back. Previous essays in this series are available at

Before continuing to read, select one of the following that is consistent with your views, or come up with another statement that captures how you view an issue:

  • Mainstream media has a consistent, dangerous liberal bias.
  • Fox News is a mouthpiece for conservative views and especially Donald Trump.
  • The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act made health insurance unaffordable for many people.
  • The United States’ public education, health care, income inequality, domestic violence and ongoing war in the Middle East, contrasted with other post-industrial democratic nations, are embarrassing and having nothing to do with world leadership or greatness.
  • The United States is the greatest, wealthiest, most powerful nation in the history of the planet.

More personal statements work as well. The above capture some of the ‘factual’ tone that is prevalent amid exchanges in current uncivil U.S. political discourse. I recommend your working with something that’s important to you. What follows is my modelling one way to work with generalizations, labels and insults.

I often observe otherwise good, intelligent, competent human beings (opinions and judgments) speaking through frustration, anger, resentment or fear (i.e. speaking emotionally,* despite their capacity for rationality) about something, and resorting to sweeping generalizations, faulty reasoning (it happened to me, so it must be true for everyone, or vice versa), and/or insult in disagreement with others. Perhaps the best place to witness this is on social media | where political and celebrity scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells | fire off their (not so) clever jibes and partial truths, | which their friends and followers ingest and regurgitate like so much nutritionally devoid vomit.

Breaking that bolded sentence down: “Perhaps…social media” forms my opinionwhich is ‘truthful’, i.e. I really do believe social media is one of the best places to observe this phenomenon (as opposed to ‘The Truth’, i.e. empirically provable). “[W]here political… ne’er-do-wells” provides intentional generalization and insults. “[F]ire off their…jibes…truths” are my judgments. Finally, “[W]hich their friends…vomit” was the first image and simile that my mind produced; its tastelessness (no pun intended) corresponds with my experience of these social media exchanges.

That sentence was fun to write, and it generalizes and insults. Here’s the beginning of a more specific, personal look at what I truly want to express, and one way I might go about expressing it:

FACT: Some politicians and celebrities (among other folks) generalize and insult each other on social media. That’s not all they do, and they’re not the only ones – but they do this.

FACT: I personally resent their doing this (even those with whom I might agree) for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, these three observations/beliefs:

  • In my experience of the world, no significant personal, national or global problem has been resolved by a tit-for-tat exchange of lies, partial truths or insults (via social media or any other means).
  • In light of the fourth bullet at the beginning of this essay, I want my elected officials to spend their time addressing issues – which impact tens of millions of people every day, rather than playing “I-got-you-last” in public (even if they have a staff member playing for them).
  • Technology is neutral: the invention of the wheel facilitated transportation and allows us to run over someone with a vehicle. The internet can be used by the local soup kitchen and the local hate group. Elected officials and members of our celebrity cult(ure) have the option not to use social media, and/or to change how they use it.

OBSERVATION: Many of us simply share what we read or hear without 1) confirming its accuracy, or 2) thinking for ourselves about the issue – allowing Merton’s “anonymous authority of the collectivity” to speak through and for us. It can be time consuming, and quite valuable, to check for accuracy and critically think about an issue before parroting someone else.

BELIEF: Technological advances that quicken and mobilize communication have diverse, positive impacts and contribute to the deterioration of language skills and communication (ask any language arts teacher who was in the classroom before smart phones, and is still there now). Something gets lost in the move from spoken, in-person conversation, to phone, video, email, texting and social media exchanges.

These will suffice for now. It seems what I wanted to express was something like this:

I worry for my family, my friends my fellow citizens and myself, and I resent those elected officials and celebrities who insult each other, state opinions as facts (whether through ignorance or intentional manipulation), and behave in ways that more or less healthy parents and teachers do not tolerate from their children and students – at any age.

Note the respective impact of each of the bolded statements. This is the beginning of a thoughtful process – one that the pace and limitations of social media, and even much broadcast media, neither allows nor encourages, and one that is difficult, if not impossible to engage in the absence of ongoing self-reflection and critical thought turned both inward and outward.


*This is not a criticism of emotion; a balance of emotion and reason tends to be more integrated. We want to utilize our brain function optimally – instinct, emotion and reason.


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