There is a special mistake in rational thinking which actually has a name. I can’t remember the name. A clever Dear Reader will know. It’s when a person does a thing and you then think the person is a thing.
So: someone shouts, and you think, goodness that’s a shouty man. Someone loses their temper, and you tell yourself that is an angry woman.
This mistake is the sister to confirmation bias. Once you have decided the person is grumpy, or arrogant, or brilliant, you then tend to notice the grumpy or arrogant or brilliant things they do and disregard all the sunny, humble or goofy things they do. Those things do not fit into the theory, so they are ignored. Almost all humans do this. Some do it more than others.
I’m always on the hunt for lazy thinking. I try and catch myself in it and have a stern word with myself. I don’t like it because I think it is closely aligned to bad manners, and also any reductive assumptions drain the human condition of all its fascinating contradictions and complexities. Labels are dull, quite apart from anything else.
I think of this as I try to give light and shade to my characters, so they will have three dimensions and sing off the page. I think of it when a Twitter storm springs up, and people take one remark or one mistake and refuse to allow any other adjective apart from their own. (How does anyone know what Emily Thornberry was really thinking when she wrote ‘image from Rochester’? I can think of at least five possible interpretations, but no, ghastly metropolitan sneery snob is the only accepted conclusion.) I think of it as I work my mare. She was immaculate this morning, light as air, soft as thought. Yesterday, she was snorting and bucking. Oh, a moody mare, many people would say. I know all about people assuming that females are a slave to their hormones, and I won’t have it. She is not moody, she is a sentient creature, and each day brings something new. I won’t apply a label, and that means I work better with her, because I’m not marching in with a horrid box-set of assumptions.
I don’t like lazy, reductive thinking because it is not useful. (It is certainly not beautiful, so William Morris would strike it off his list at once.) The older I get, the more I love the useful. I was once a bit of a dreamy idealist. I liked the big theories and the high notions and thought they probably could change the world. Now, I like very much things which work, even if they don’t sound wildly poetic. I like things which contribute something, which get things done, which add some small increment to the sum total of human happiness. (And equine happiness too.) So there will be no crass labels here, no moody mares, no oestrogen-battered females. There will be no ‘they are all the same’, no bland labels, no group-think. It’s quite tiring, because I have to stay on watch for my own weakness like a sentinel on a castle rampart. But I think it is worth it.
Just time for two quick beauties: