Generally, there is no truth there

By Steve Estes

Strictly Drivel by Steve Estes

Prejudice is a funny thing. It’s ugly on the face of it and should not be tolerated in today’s homogenous society, but the pre-conceived notions it gives people can be hilarious on closer examination.

As a reporter, I was warned long and hard by the teachers in my formative years to question anything that smelled like a “glittering generality.”

A glittering generality is anything that encompasses everything in a given situation, or everyone in a given situation.

For instance, a glittering generality that many of us are familiar with is the one that we get every time a hurricane comes within 200 miles of us from people who live in inland areas and mountainous regions.

They watch the boob tube and they see this sprawling cloud mass on the satellite picture that covers all or part of the Keys. They assume, wrongly so, that we are getting belted with a hurricane.

They ignore what we know. We know that the hurricane itself is a rather small event on a global scale. We know that hurricane winds only extend out so far, and that tropical storm winds only extend out so far. Beyond about 120 miles, again a small area when seen on a global scale, it’s a breezy day with a good chance of rain.

There are times when I peruse the local online gossip sheet at I ignore the mean-spirited posts because I’m there to see if there are any rumors I haven’t already heard that I can maybe check on. Sometimes I get lucky.

So I see this post a while back where the writer is trying to make fun of a picture they found, I guess while using too much of their free time perusing internet sites, calling the picture a redneck hurricane kit.

The picture shows a young man, towing a young woman through chest-deep water on a piece of plywood. You can tell it’s hot by the picture. The woman is sitting in the middle of the plywood raft, and she’s surrounded by various brands of beer and a couple bags of snacks.

The writer, who has a pre-conceived notion of what a redneck is and makes that assumption based on looks rather than any real sense of knowledge, makes fun of the floating plywood as a redneck hurricane survival kit.

But let’s assume for a moment that the writer’s assumptions are totally off base, which is generally the case. Let’s assume this is a case of glittering generality.

This young man is simply towing a young lady down some flooded streets in the aftermath of a natural disaster of some proportion. It could also have been a man-made disaster, like opening the flood gates on a dam upriver, or a water-main break in a subdivision downhill.

How these happen is varied. The dam’s caretaker slipped on a wet floor, reached out to right himself and accidentally grabbed the release handle. The street crew was replacing a handicapped parking sign and drilled too deep into the water main.

So our young couple, unable to change what has already transpired, has set out in an effort to make the best of a bad situation.

They own the local corner store. They have a cooler full of beer that will go bad in the heat. Knowing their neighbors have no power, or means of transportation, they load up a piece of plywood and float door-to-door with a gift for those in the same situation.

Later, they will return on the same path with water for those who don’t wish a beer selection.

Far from making them rednecks, it instead makes them humanitarians, willing to take a personal risk to turn a bad situation into an impromptu street party.

And unlike those who deal in glittering generality, we peel back the layers to find some good.

I once had a teacher who taught me something very important as a student. He handed out a test to the class on a subject we had not covered. It was a standardized test, or at least part of one, and it was strictly true-false questions.

Before we got started he pulled six of us aside and gave us the secret to passing the test without one ounce of knowledge. We used that tip and all six of us passed.

What he told me made me rethink everything I had ever known about glittering generality.

He told us that every question that used the words all or never would be false, and to answer them that way. As a true-false test, we had a 50 percent chance of getting any single answer right, so answer them all true. We all scored a 78 percent on the exam.

When you lump all people into a category by looks, you are wrong 100 percent of the time. When you lump all situations into a category by looks, you are wrong 100 percent of the time. Save yourself the trouble. Don’t look.

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