A National Face

I absolutely love it when journalists, talking heads, public commentators and like decide to generalize on the so-called "core values" of a particular nation. These blanket statements almost always come across as sweeping stereotypes yielding only the tiniest indication of the nation or its citizens' identities. A beneficial practice for the youth of any country might be to make an acquaintance, better yet a friend, from a country other than one's own so as to instill, from an early age, a sense that even though a group may gather under a common, national umbrella, those in its shadow rarely possess more than just a few similar traits.

The best of these generalizations are quite detailed and as such have already narrowed their scope; the resulting idea is conveyed successfully. For example, in the Christian Science Monitor today (29.06.2009) the author James Miller states, "One of the core principles of traditional Chinese culture is that of harmony between humans and nature." If delivered by a news anchor or commentator, surely this statement would be reduced for shorter attention spans and might come out as something like, "The Chinese people believe in harmony between humans and nature." The latter comment is far less truthful than the former and this is the tendency of most media voices today; the goal is to get the point across while including the fewest details necessary.

This makes for a portrayal of the world, its people and its dynamics, that is two-dimensional at best and at worst, a gross misrepresentation of reality. As it is, the world is a full of tonalities of truth, varying from the purest of positive events and actions to the most heinous of malicious occurrences. To dissect our lives and our environment with such a cleaver, one that slices only black and white hunks of generalization, is the great disservice that corner-cutters on the boob tube provide us.

It's true; one could rightfully question: "What do you expect? It's free." However, the dangerous cost of this type of distilled dissemination of facts is our narrowed perspective which inevitably leads to misunderstanding and intolerance of others.

Most often, I balk at the notion that, "Americans are..." something or some way across the board. These stereotypes hardly apply to me or anyone I know. And this is not to say that I'm so unique that nobody can pin me to a category. I'm plenty normal, but the deeper fact is that no nation's face, even of the most ethnically homogeneous culture, can be sufficiently described by the use of just a few adjectives or the bandying about of blindly adopted stereotypes.

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