Why “All” Is Such A Dangerous Word.

Recently on LinkedIn I came across a post from a high-ranking agency leader. He was making provocative statements about creatives, (self-deprecating as he is a creative as well). It was about how “All” creatives feel like imposters. Or “All” creatives were afraid of the blank page.

But the message was lost by one simple word. “All”

When you think about it, we do not live in a world of absolutes. All people from a group, race, religion or even an occupation cannot be clustered together. But imagine if he used that word against another group, perpetuating stereotypes with the “All” messaging.

Yet, when you apply it to an occupation, it seemed perfectly acceptable by many of the people engaging with the post.

The lesson here is to be diverse in principle, you must be diverse in practice. To group “All” of anyone into a singular bucket of behavior is unconscionable, because it lacks truth. Generalizations about anyone is dangerous, and the transitive thinking can create patterns that perpetuate stereotypes. If “All” is ok to apply to one group, its very easy to apply it to others as well. And that is a slippery slope.

The problem with a world of describing others through absolute terms is that life does not reflect that. A mindset, actions or even the food you love does not apply to everyone who makes up your group. We are individuals within a culture, and our race, ethnicity, politics, sexual identity, etc. do not define us. Who we are does, not what others think we represent.

And when that is not considered, it becomes the seed of racism, which is why “All” is so dangerous. Because that is how racists think. If a mindset is applied to all people within a group, they can’t be seen for who they are. And when our language gets laced with hyperbole, then all, everyone, those people, become the vernacular path to stereotype.

Sadly, many in the agency world think in absolutes. We target affinity and demographic groups and assume all will behave the same way. I hear complaints that “All” creatives have a big ego, or “All” account people suck. I’m sick of hearing it. Yet, we have gotten so used to putting people in a box, that we forget that they are individuals. There is an assumption that each demo, occupation, target group, etc. comes from the same background, and will behave the same way. And that is wrong.

Our world is complex. Yet simple. We overthink, underthink, and sadly, all we need to do is think. Are all creatives egomanics? I know a few, sure, but not all. Do all account people suck? Nope. But some are better than others. If we take a beat to think about individuals within a group, we free ourselves from damaging hyperbole. Our language must represent that understanding, so we can train ourselves away from implicit bias, artificial barriers, and the harm that happens as a result.

So strike “All” when referring to people. And let’s rebuild an agency world free from stereotype, veneer and move toward equality in thought, language and most importantly, practice.

It’s a simple first step, and it starts with us.

Co-Founder Cast Iron LA agency. Webby Judge. Satirist. Contributor to FastToCreate, AdWeek, HuffPo, Digiday and others. I fight fire with humor. www.castiron.la