Generalizing from the Particular to the Universal

You know how it goes.  You go into a department store and have an unpleasant encounter with the person at checkout…..and you never go back there again.  The particular incident has given you a bad feeling for the entire organization.

You break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend and, at least for a while, you think that no one really can be trusted.  This one relationship makes you mistrustful of such relationships in general.

Generalization.  It can help us when the generalization is true and can distort reality for us when false.  For example, when we touch poison ivy in one woods, it is wise to avoid it in the next….and the next.  The effects of poison ivy generalize regardless of which plant we touch.  On the other hand, one boyfriend’s bad behavior does not predict another person’s behavior.  In this case, generalization closes down our mind and heart when there is no need for this.

When you are hurt by someone, you have to be careful not to generalize this to many, most, or all others.  Not everyone is out to hurt you.  Such generalization can form the unhealthy foundation for a world view that is pessimistic and inaccurate.  Has this happened to you?

If so, it is time to fight back against this.  Try saying the following to yourself as a way to break the habit of a false view of others:

I have been wounded by another person. For today, I will not let his/her wounds make me a bitter person who thinks negatively about people in general. I will overcome any tendency toward this by seeing others as having special worth, not because of what they have done, but in spite of this.  We are all on this planet together; we are all wounded.  Not all are out to wound me.


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Categories: Anger, Inherent Worth, Our Forgiveness Blog


  1. Amanda says:

    I have to admit being guilty of this. It can be so hard to overcome mistrust. It is painful. What do you suggest we do to get over mistrust when abused by others?

  2. Brian says:

    Do you think this generalization is a good thing when we see one person as important and then generalize this to all? If so, and I think this is the case, we have an example of how views of persons can benefit from this practice of going from the particular to the universal.

  3. Robert says:

    Hello, Amanda. Thank you for the question. When you are experiencing mistrust, I recommend what I call “the 3 R’s” in the book, The Forgiving Life: look for the other person’s remorse (inner sorrow), repentance (language that suggests amended ways), and recompense (willingness to make up for the damage done). You may have to see these slowly emerging over time for your trust to become re-established with this particular person.

  4. Samantha says:

    We also should be careful of doing this in the context of one particular person. Some people behave badly on a consistent basis but for those who do not, we do not want to stereotype that one person because of a mistake or two or even three.

  5. Chris says:

    Once this generalization occurs, I wonder how it can be reversed? I suppose one way is to be aware that it happened so you can address it upfront. It seems to me that it would be a fight to now reverse this especially when it starts to happen subconsciously.


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