People are not berries

I don’t remember what the trigger was – some communal discord I am sure – but someone asked why we generalise and paint entire communities with the same brush.

The easy answer is that it is human nature. And it is human nature because it is convenient. It helps us label and categorise things. In a world where every person, event, or tendency cannot be dealt with individually, generalisations are our best friends.

Think about an early human. She wanders the forest looking for food. She finds a red berry, eats it, and promptly dies. Her companion is an open-minded caveman. After some mourning, he moves on and finds another red berry. He thinks, “There is no reason why this red berry has to be like the last one. Perhaps this one is not poisonous.” He eats the berry and promptly dies as well.

Was there a chance he was right about the berry not being poisonous? Of course. Was that chance worth taking given that he had just watched a fellow tribeswoman die? Of course not.

Generalisations are a way to minimise risk.

But does this mean people are justified in generalising when it comes to communities


Repeat after me: People are not berries.

What works for the caveman foraging for food in a forest will not serve you well in a modern multicultural society. People are complicated and can make choices. That means that no matter what qualities you think “they” must all possess, it is always possible for some or many of “them” to choose to not do so. The tendency to generalise exists for a purpose. But you can’t apply it to each and every scenario. Dealing with human beings sometimes involves more effort.

So don’t be a caveman. Nobody is. Not anymore.