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From Pit Bulls to Poodles (and Almost Everything in Between) It's Rarely All or Nothing

by on December 15, 2014 6:15 AM

I overheard some students prepping for this week's final exams and heard one student say "don't forget that if the true-false question says ALL, it is false."

The undergraduate rules of figuring out tricky exam questions suggest that there is rarely a situation in which there might not be an exception.

To answer true to a question that refers to "all" would be to fall into the instructor's trap.

I've thought about that conversation several times since. Is there a lesson to be learned from the concept of all?

All police officers are out to target young Black men and treat them differently than same-age White men.

All Black men walking alone or standing on a corner are criminals.

All Penn Staters were in on the alleged Sandusky cover up.

All people with disabilities are angry.

All blondes are airheads.

I'm beginning to see some serious problems with this idea of "all."

When we lump people into categories or groups and assign those groups either negative or positive characteristics, we are doing the individuals – and ourselves – a pretty big injustice.

In most instances when we attribute something to all of anything, the outcomes aren't usually accurate.

Consider the pit bull breed of dog. I'm more of a Labrador retriever kind of gal but it defies logic when groups try to get together to ban pit bulls from neighborhoods or communities. To say that all pit bulls are nasty and that they should all be banned makes no sense. I've met some adult pit bulls that were as mild as kittens. I was also bitten by a rather nasty poodle when I was about 10 years old.

It seems silly to even say the words. All poodles are mean. Have you ever seen a teacup poodle?

Ah, but it's about statistics.

Inevitably there is a report with numbers that prove pit bulls bite and attack more humans than any other breed of dog - just ignore the tweaking of the statistics and the occasional reporter bias to support the theory.

In other words, the number of poodles that bite don't help me forward my agenda to ban pit bulls.

There probably are some true all statements – especially in math and science. Two plus two is always four. I'm pretty sure that two molecules of hydrogen when combined with one molecule of oxygen always makes water.

The unpredictable nature of the human species, however, suggests there is hardly ever an ALL without at least a couple of exceptions.

My husband and I occasionally used the lump-the-all-together concept as a tool for parenting. You will always get caught if you lie or cheat or steal. In learning how to drive, assume that all other drivers will come into your lane, turn in front of you or otherwise make mistakes that will cause you to have an accident. Smoking cigarettes always causes lung cancer.

I remember my high school health teacher telling us "you will get pregnant every time you have sex."

Unfortunately, hyperbole parenting and teaching only works until we are able to reason and analyze statistics "There was a girl in English class who used to turn in her older brother's papers and she never got caught." 

"I drove downtown to meet a friend at Rita's Ice and not one person came into my lane or turned in front of me."

"Great Uncle Harry smoked well into his 80s and never got lung cancer."

Some couples have to try to have a baby?

It's not too long before we learn that, in truth, all is more often some.

Some police officers do respond to minority teenagers based on stereotypes but more do not. Some black teenagers walking alone may be up to no good but most are not. It's yet to be proven who, if anyone, at Penn State knew about the real nature of the crimes for which Sandusky was convicted but I know for a fact that I did not. A few people with disabilities are probably angry and frustrated but I know many more that aren't.

I occasionally say and do some airheaded things but, even with blonde hair, somehow managed to earn a graduate degree.

I have a friend on Facebook who grew up in Central Pennsylvania but who now fancies herself a big city girl. A recent post in response to the Ferguson, Mo. mess said that those who live in out here in the hinterlands and away from the sophistication of Los Angeles or New York City are all conservative, uninformed and simplistic in our thinking. None of us could possibly understand the issues behind the Hands Up, Don't Shoot movement. It made me laugh. Go out to get pump from the water Pa, I have to churn butter for supper.

It may come as a surprise but some Central Pennsylvanians are emphatically liberal, informed and quite sophisticated. Others are not.

Emotions, past experiences and misinformation make us the most susceptible to making generalizations about the all.

All is rarely ever all.

Looking back on the student who was prepping for finals, I believe he may be correct. A statement that says all things, all situations or all people is probably false.

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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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