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Categorical Judgment

We sometimes make categorical judgments about groups of people. “Younger people are like this; older people are like that.” We usually make such judgments for convenience and sometimes to intentionally oppress a group of people.

In this video Craig explains some cautions about making categorical judgments.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everyone. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. I was leading a workshop the other day. It was about inter-generational communications. We had some young people in the room, we had some old people in the room, and we were discussing how younger people and older people communicate with each other – actually, how we often miscommunicate with each other! But we were trying to understand each other and communicate better.

Some older people in the room made statements like, “Young people today, they’re always on their phones, you know, they don’t look you in the eye when you talk to them.” And some of the younger people made some categorical judgments against the older people.

But after we got more comfortable talking, one or two of the young people spoke up and said, “No, actually, I’m not like that. When I talk to somebody I put my phone away and look at them in the eye. It’s because of how I was raised.” Other people also spoke up and talked about how they don’t fit within the categories, and we came to realize that while categorical judgments are convenient they are never totally right. In fact each person as an individual and the behaviors and communication styles that people have depend a lot more on their personality type, the way they were raised, stuff other than the “category” that they’re in.

Now, sometimes we make categorical judgments purely out of convenience. It’s easy to think of a whole class of people as a certain way: “Now I don’t have to think about that anymore; I’ve got a rule in my head to go by and I can just move on.” Sometimes we make categorical judgments because we actually want to think bad about a class of people and we want to use that as an excuse to patronize them, oppress them, or, you know, make rules against them.

Sometimes we make categorical judgments because well, kind of because we have to. This happens a lot to policymakers. You know, we’ve got to make laws. And in this country for instance we have a law that says no one under 21 can drink alcohol and almost everyone over 21 can drink alcohol. That’s a pretty broad sweeping categorical judgment.

So when is it okay to make a categorical judgment and when isn’t it? First of all, whenever you make one, just know that it’s not universally true. Second, know that whenever you make a categorical judgment it’s going to cause misunderstandings, resentment and conflict because it’s not going to apply properly to everyone – just know that that’s going to happen. Thirdly, I don’t believe a categorical judgment should ever be made for the purpose of intentionally oppressing or treating a group of people badly. That is not helpful for any group as a whole and should never be a reason for making a categorical judgment.

I’m sorry this stuff is not simple! Group decision making is always complex and messy and there are no categorical judgments about how to do it right or do it wrong, but at least I’ve provided some things to think about, and I’m hoping that you help your group make good decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody.

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