Humanity is an endless mystery. Every human brain is a special snowflake, intricate and complicated and nothing like anyone else’s. The most mysterious thing about humanity, though, is our incessant need to ignore the above, and relentlessly try to understand each other. Honestly. It’s a wonder we’ve made it this far.
In the beginning, man decided to try and understand the world, mostly by getting in boats and killing a bunch of whatever he found at the other end. Man tried to understand food by setting it on fire (and that went pretty well, because barbecues). Man tried to understand animals, by slicing them up, and people, by slicing them up, and the stars, and rocks, and rainbows, and language, and just everything you can possibly think of.
And then, at some point, psychology became a science, and some people started looking at other people and realised they couldn’t understand them by slicing them up. So they started talking, and testing, and monitoring, and came up with lots of theories about lots of things (and then fought over them for the next 200 years, because academia is like that kids).
At some point in the 20th century, understanding each other also became a hobby. That’s not to say that people didn’t have empathy before 1901, but I do genuinely believe that there was too much more to life to become inherently bothered by the people around you. Then we hit the industrial revolution, and a couple of World Wars, and then the “teenager” was invented, and there was just more time to spend on introspection, and reflection of that in other people.
Now, it’s a constant thing. You cannot move for blogs sharing the difficulties of addiction, web articles like this one telling men how to understand women, tweets talking about the complexities of mental well-being. TV dramas centring on gay characters in the middle of war zones. It’s EVERYWHERE.
I’m personally very guilty of it. I want to know what makes people tick, because if you know some of those things, you can help them better. That’s the theory of it, anyway. But there does come a point where suddenly all of that well-meaning discovery crosses a line, and becomes bizarre informational voyeurism. I often find myself in the middle of an article thinking “this isn’t for me” – I struggle when I read about groups or subcultures which I don’t identify with (not that I really have any that I do identify with, which I suppose makes it more complex) because it begins to feel like crawling into someone else’s life just because “it might be interesting to look around”.
The fact is, as I mentioned at the start, we’re all of us different, and it’s quite presumptuous (to the point of rudeness) to think that an article, a TV broadcast, or a tweet comes close to explaining us. You begin to put people in boxes, defined by your understanding of discrete characteristics which they have. It’s stereotyping, we just don’t call it that because it’s on a micro scale, and because stereotyping is negative, and we’re being empathetic, which is supposed to be positive.
Ultimately, you have to strike a balance. Seeking knowledge is never going to be a bad thing. But fundamentally, with that knowledge must sit an understanding that humans are as diverse as can be imagined, and just because you understand one aspect of a person, doesn’t mean you understand the person as a whole.