Dear Carolyn • My sister told me that she thought my co-workers were Taiwanese and Korean based on X and Y behaviors. They were actually from Vietnam and Hong Kong, respectively. She told me my friend who did an Ironman race must have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder because all people who participate in Ironmans do. I told her: “You haven’t seen his bathroom.” She gave my husband a book for Christmas about introverts because she thinks he is one. And she just commented about a friend Matt who has a speech impediment. He doesn’t.
I truly think she is unaware of how she comes across. She thinks these are real observations she is making and that her assessments are completely true. What can I say to let her know that her perceptions do not translate to universal truths?
Dear Annoyed Sister • Is it a universal truth that everyone who jumps to conclusions needs to be fixed?
I realize your sister’s labeling habit inevitably veers into one -ist or another, with side trips into “judgmental” and “cuckoo bird.” This will sometimes hurt, offend or just mystify others, which in turn would affect her socially.
But seeing it as your responsibility to break her of this habit risks turning you into a milder version of her — one who reduces people to a set of traits and declares herself an expert on them. (Ahem.)
Instead, stick to case-by-case responses to opinions you find problematic. If you’re close enough — which the fact of your letter suggests you aren’t — you can cut straight to, “You do realize how bonkers that sounds, right?” Otherwise, play it straight: “If someone tagged my ethnicity based on X behavior, I’d find that offensive.” “I doubt you’d appreciate being group-diagnosed like that.”
Make a point of being honest about your opinions, versus corrective of hers, and you’ll stay on your side of the line.
Carolyn Hax’s column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.