The Potential Tyranny of Generalities

This is the first “official” blog post of Ra Talk.  Since the mission of Ra Talk Blog is focused upon personal development, moral development, and spiritual development and how these three lines interface within ourselves and the social world – I think it is fitting to recognize that each person is unique, special, and talented in ways that transcend even the greatest of talents of others.  Because of this inherent dignity and uniqueness of each person there are times when we make generalities about ourselves, about other people, and about the world; and, because of these generalities we can form conclusions based on significantly limited information.  If I were to ask you, “In what ways do you form conclusions about other people without knowing that much about them?”  Now we are all guilty of automaticity, that is, cognitively processing information based on implicit categorizations from our beliefs, experiences, worldview, ingroup and outgroup distinctions, etc.  This is a natural function of the brain and mind at work; however, how often do we redirect these quick assessments about others, about ourselves, and about the world to higher-order principles of honor, respect, empathy, and understanding?

Psychology offers a simple way that it distinguishes theories of human behavior.  It is called the nomothetic and idiographic approach.  Simply put, the nomothethic approach looks a large patterns and generates generalized theories whereas the idiographic approach looks at cases to get an in-depth understanding of individuals within their full context, hence personalized theories are formed.  Now, what does all this theory stuff have to do with real life?  Well, Chris Argyris, arguably one of the great innovative thinkers, stated that people have all types of “mini-theories” and that these “theories” serve as governing principles for human behavior.  Although, this mini-theory idea is a common thought and has correlations in personality psychology called “implicit personality theory,” or social psychology calling it “implicit theories,” or leadership studies referring to this idea as “implicit leadership theories” the fact remains that we all form mini-theories about life – and often times these mini-theories are formed from incoherent and incomplete maps about the world.  Now I am not suggesting that we can or even should have “complete” maps, but I am suggesting that we stretch ourselves to arrive at a more comprehensive map.

If this seems like a useful idea – share your thoughts and insights about your experiences, and how we can stretch ourselves to arrive at more comprehensive maps about ourselves, others, and the world…