Lumping, we all do it.  Sometimes it helps us, sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it gets us into serious trouble.  You cannot get through a day without a whole bunch of lumping going on.  Talk to a friend, watch an advertisement, listen to a news report, read or write anything, and you are either a victim or a perpetrator of lumping, and usually both.  What am I talking about?

It’s a simple idea, but also rather profound.  We lump better than computers, much better. We can look at someone, even from a great distance in dim light, and often lump them quite successfully.  No supercomputer could do this.  We can look into the eyes of a total stranger, and in a fraction of a second lump them.  They wouldn’t even know what happened.

I’m not just talking about people lumping people.  We lump things too, all the time.  Do you ever buy organic food?  Do you know what that means?  What about fresh produce?  Or artificial sweetener?  Or green revolution?  Or global warming?  Or low-fat? Or liberal, radical, tea-party, or conservative?  All these descriptors lump.  Do you really understand what they mean?

Lumping is necessary.  We cannot communicate without lumping, and we do like to communicate.  But, watch for the subtle choice of words or phrases and consider the lumping motives of the source.  Here are some types of lumping that may mislead us.

  • stereotyping and profiling
  • sweeping generalizations
  • arbitrary and artificial dichotomies or polychotomies
  • ad hominems

One of my favorites is lumping by example: a football player gets arrested for some horrible crime, even murder, and the entire team gets lumped.  Another favorite is lumping by the average:  you shouldn’t go to that college because the graduation rate is low.

Do you remember “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”?  Right!  When you call your little brother a jerk, you are lumping him in with all the jerks of the world and he’s supposed to know exactly what you mean.  When someone says “Golly, it’s hot out today,” we know what that means.  Today has been lumped with all hot days, even though not all hot days are the same.  I challenge you to have a conversation without lumping.

Unfortunately, there are certain lumping words and phrases that you should never utter, not among friends, not even when you are alone.  For God’s sake never write them down.  Here are some examples . . . oops!  See what I mean.

Beware of lumping, it can take you down a road you may not want to travel.

About DocStephens

Retired college professor of science and mathematics, academic administrator, and president (emeritus).
This entry was posted in Human Behavior, Musings. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Lumping

  1. Pam says:

    I love your blog! I know exactly what you mean about lumping, It could be very dangerous;especially to those you love! We all have the tendency to lump or stereotype. Have you read the responses to the news articles posted on the internet? Oh my, it is all lumping communication!! I think instead of judging others, wouldn’t our time be better spent if we just took a good, long look in the mirror and worked on our own lumping communication. How can we judge anyone or anything when we never have the full story behind the story? Is it the truth and nothing but the truth….or is it just a lump……..someone’s perspective, I mean.

    Thanks for sharing… makes me think and smile!

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