To describe further let's take an example. Consider a person V, victim of an event or witnessed injustice. It seemed quite obvious that a person X who belongs to a group G is responsible for said injustice.

With emotion running high, they rightfully condemn the act but sometimes they wrongfully accuse the whole group G. The accusation is ungrounded and simply false because few peoples don't represent the entire group. Significant majority of G are good citizen which is not just a belief but can be empirically proved.

Now this is the time V needs sympathy and consolation, and it doesn't feel appropriate to pick on their remarks and correct them just because you want to be right. But at the same time it is a very awkward situation and keeping silence feels like approving wrong remarks.

What approaches or techniques allow for consoling V or validating their dismay while also not validating their inappropriate judgement of the group?

Edit: please also consider the situation in group setting where people are not calm enough to listen.

  • 1
    To clarify, V accuses G when only X is the perpetrator? And the G-ness of X is largely irrelevant.
    – DTRT
    Jan 8, 2021 at 15:37
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    @John-305 yes correct but more importantly V is overwhelm and probably not ready to listen. Getting into debate about right and wrong appears not to be the center of discussion and may be not important.
    – old-monk
    Jan 8, 2021 at 17:47
  • Somewhat related: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/2115
    – Clockwork
    Jan 8, 2021 at 21:08
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    – Em C
    Jan 9, 2021 at 0:18

3 Answers 3


Say both at the same time.

"I very much agree that X did you wrong and I will try and help you in that regard in any way I know. But you cannot blame all Gs. There are bad people in any group of people, like X in G. I share your pain, but that's no reason for racism/ageism/whateverism."

Well, that's how I handle these kinds of situations. It usually works.


  • The question was edited to include group settings. Basically, when they don't hear you, you won't be heard. I wouldn't expect this approach to work then: It works by steering the conversation, which will be much more difficult in a group setting.
  • A comment asked to elaborate on which kind of responses I get. Typically people are grateful that someone is there to console them which lets them follow my lead to put the blame to where it's really due. It's really basically that.
  • The same comment asked for specific situations. One example is my dabbling in politics a few years ago where I talked to dozens and dozens of people on the street to convince them to vote for my party. It's a bit different, but the general "acknowledge the anger and direct it onto the right target" remains the same. In those situations I had lots of conversations with people complaining about "all refugees", "all people of a certain religion", "all politicians". Around 10-20% of those people were not to reason with. With the rest I first tried to find out where their complaint came from and redirected that into the right direction. Examples (excuse my political bias, it's for the sake of demonstration): It's not the refugees who block social housing, it's some politicians who cut the funding for social housing and even won't add funds now. It's not [people of a certain religion] who commit terrorist attacks, but bad people who do (with specific examples of other terrorists to balance the view). There are other examples from my private context which are a better match for the question (with a very specific person X and a real victim V), but if I abstract away the kinds of details that I won't share online, it boils down to what I previously said. I hope the example helped anyway.
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    You are right. It's so simple that I find my question silly now. But most importantly since I don't want to steer the conversation towards ethical correctness from matter at hand, I will rephrase the issue along with subtle rejection to inappropriate remark. Example: That's not true but X's action is wrong because <explanation>. The strategy is to pull conversation back to real objective and is applicable to many situations. This practice is even taught in customer service call center to handle difficult caller.
    – old-monk
    Jan 8, 2021 at 18:09
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    @old-monk "That's not true" is a bit too blunt for my taste, but I do think your instinct to shorten the part where you're not sympathizing is a good one. Perhaps something like "No need to generalize [to all G], but I feel your pain. X was wrong for [reasons]"
    – BThompson
    Jan 8, 2021 at 19:28
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    Could you elaborate on "it usually works"? What sort of responses have you gotten from "V" when you say something like that? If you could give an example situation that'd be great, I would think this depends heavily on how emotional the person is and what your relationship is to them. Also note OP's edit about group settings where people are not calm enough to listen, would your approach change at all in those cases?
    – Em C
    Jan 8, 2021 at 20:52

The phenomenon you're experiencing has a name: "not all men". It applies not only when men are the group G, but for any group. What you need to understand is that they are not condemning the whole group, so you don't need to correct that.

That G, X, [did terrible thing]! All G are [string of nasty adjectives.]

Despite having said "All G are" the person does not mean that all G are. Just as when someone says "I'll kill him!" they don't actually intend to commit murder or even assault. It's a thing people say.

When you focus on that, and on correcting that, and on forcing the person to admit that not all G are nasty, you are by definition not supporting or helping the victim. You're putting the feelings of other G who are not even around to hear this outburst ahead of the hurt person. If you're a G, you can maybe grin and say "not all G" once but my main advice to you is to ignore the literal incorrectness of "all" and focus on what the person needs in terms of help and support.

Letting "all G are [whatever]" go by without comment is not agreeing with it. You don't need to get out of the conversation or anything like that. Just take it as a show of how incredibly upset the person is, and react to that underlying truth. If your friend said "I'll kill him!" you wouldn't feel obliged to point out that murder is illegal, jail is unpleasant, and so on.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Em C
    Jan 11, 2021 at 18:20

I am going to have to disagree with Kate in her answer. I think there is a strong distinction between a few examples of inflammatory behavior coming from specific members of particular groups, and stereotyping unfairly, and emotionally, in the heat of the moment, that all members of that particular group are problematic. Self restraint and rational thinking go out the door, which is problematic and contributes to escalation of tensions.

Such characterization is unfair as it's mostly untrue. I say mostly, because there are members, both in the USA and abroad, who are members of groups that share ideology of racism and / or hate. Personally I love diversity and go out of my way to show respect , empathy, and understanding for people, especially for things they cannot change about themselves such as race or gender.

Please see my answer to linked question below on the Workplace Stack Exchange about a situation in which OP encountered a remark made to them that she felt was demeaning. I began by acknowledging that some workplaces indeed have employees that create environments demeaning of women or racial minorities, and that such individuals / workplaces are indeed problematic. I felt the OP acted immaturely and rashly. She had all the right to be upset but if she had risen above and taken the higher road by showing restraint, documenting grievances, and reporting to HR, she would most likely be seen much better. If you look at the responses of users Kilisi and Flexi, you will see how they both recommend self restraint and introspection similar to mine.


Tldr: Be the higher person rather than stooping down to the level of the other person. Use the appropriate means to solve problems, rather than making things personal.

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    The question wasn't how V should behave. The question was how OP should react to V's behaviour. Tldr: Don't be the "higher" person which in this case means you are just judgemental, but be a human being.
    – gnasher729
    Jan 9, 2021 at 1:20
  • Why do you feel this answer is being judgemental? Returning the insult would only further inflame the situation. V should respond with restraint, and seek to disengage while being clear such remarks are unwelcome.
    – Anthony
    Jan 9, 2021 at 1:39
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    Anthony: Go back to the original post and read carefully who the people involved are. You are mixing them up. V is upset because they were treated unfairly, and I don’t criticise people for what they do in that state while they are upset. You wait until V has calmed down and see what they say then.
    – gnasher729
    Jan 9, 2021 at 20:47
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    And to be clear, wouldn’t your advice to V apply to you equally? Aren’t you inflaming the situation? Shouldn’t you respond with restraint and disengage?
    – gnasher729
    Jan 9, 2021 at 20:51

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