Thursday, January 7, 2016

“It is not you, but the others......” : The real impact of sweeping generalisations.

“It is not you, but the others...” is a phrase I seem to hear more and more. Whenever I ask these people to define these 'others' and what percentage of the population (or of a 'group' of people),  they are referring to, they don't seem to be able to do so.

I ask - do they make up fifty percent or more? 'No' is the response. When asked if the number is more like five percent, they reply 'MORE!'. When I push for a figure or even to give me examples....they can't. Sometimes they act sheepish, sometimes they mumble 'Someone told me about some people they knew', or “I read something in the paper” (or saw it on TV). The reality is that no actual examples can be given when pressed, or if you are very lucky, perhaps an example can be found. Yet the 'zero', or the 'one' example, seem to make up more than five percent, but less than fifty percent of a whole group of people...which often leaves me baffled.

Which groups are these sweeping generalisations being made about? You name a marginalised group of people and you will hear some variation of the diatribe being delivered. The unemployed are deemed 'dole bludgers', Muslims are deemed terrorists and the poor are generally thought of as lazy or lacking the motivation to succeed. For those sprouting the diatribe, they are never referring to those people they personally know who are part of the 'group', but are talking about the 'others'.

Where do these false and misguided beliefs come from and why do they exist? Who benefits from them? When did we stop being critical thinkers? Let us look at one group- the unemployed. The thought that seems to pervade society, that unemployed people are as a group, all lazy and 'bludgers', is unproven. In any group of people, there are likely to be 'outliers' and in the case of the unemployed, this may mean (in a very simplified way), a person who has the capacity and ability to work, but doesn't want to. In my experience working with the unemployed, I hadn't come across anyone who was like this. I did however, come across people who couldn't work or find work, for a variety of reasons. 

I worked with people who applied for job after job after job, but were not successful in obtaining an interview.  Sometimes it was as simple as their age, lack of experience, and believe it or not, their over-experience in a role. I worked with people who were successful in getting a job but wouldn't last long due to complex issues, such as an inability to contain their emotions, which lead to physical or verbal fighting at work (for some of these clients, who's backgrounds I knew of, attachment theory made perfect sense). There are those whose prior substance or alcohol use, damaged their ability to learn new things/retain new information. There were those who had very low self esteem and didn't present well to employers. There were those who had low level anxiety and/or depression and had not sought clinical diagnosis or help. Add to these examples the unemployment rate and the chances of gaining employment naturally reduce in a competitive market.

Yet, despite the complexity of why people are unemployed (aside from the obvious reason that there are no jobs for them), we as a society, largely seem to cling to the view that the unemployed are 'dole bludgers' or lazy, of course not you, you are different, it's the others...

How healthy is holding this view and what impact does it have on the unemployed? Does it steer the conversation on unemployment away from the real reasons/issues and how they can be addressed? Maybe there isn't a solution to unemployment. Will we ever have more jobs than we have people? If the answer is no, then it stands to reason that we will have those in the community who need to receive unemployment benefits to cover the costs of essentials such as food and shelter. Someone once said that the sign of a civilised society is that it looks after it's less fortunate. I would boldly add that a civilised society also critically considers information it is presented, such as those sweeping generalisations about maginalised groups.

Going back to the dole bludging unemployed, my experience has shown me that there are individuals in this group who need long term, respectful, intensive support to help them get to the point where they would not only be employable, but importantly, would be likely to sustain their employment. But we don't seem to be having conversations on sustainable employment. We seem to be more interested in 'numbers' and quick fixes, rather than lasting solutions. A case in point- The 'work for the dole' program, which some people in the community see as a great way to move 'dole bludgers' off unemployment and into the workforce. This program forces the financially vulnerable (ie the unemployed) to work for free (or else have their unemployment money cut off). Despite research showing the program doesn't achieve what it claims it will do, which is to provide employment outcomes, the program continues and no one is talking about it, or asking who benefits from turning members of a maginalised group into slave labour. Is this the kind of society we are proud to be part of and why aren't we talking about this?..not you, you are a critical thinker, it is the others...the less than fifty percent, but more than five.

Copyright matthew schiavello 2015. Written as part of my forced work for the dole activity.

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