Last night, I was at Caledon Oxbridge University, helping newcomers. It's very common for me to get unsolicited Friends requests from newcomers, and sure enough, one popped up in my windows.
The avatar who had sent it wasn't even in visual range, and had never said a word to introduce himself. This, too, is common. Annoying, but I'm used to it. I turned down the offer, with a polite comment that I didn't normally accept Friends offers until after I'd gotten to know a person.
This fellow, as it happened, was a Frenchman. After exchanging a few increasingly biting comments, he said, "Typical American".
Well, that really made me angry. I'm not a typical anything, thank you very much. I'm me -- unique, one of a kind, accept no substitutes! So I shot back, "Typical Frenchman!" and muted the annoyance.
But he was not anything of the kind, of course. I have met several Frenchmen (and French women) in Second Life. Except for this one rude one, every one of them was friendly, open, interesting, and willing to work with me to communicate across the language barrier. Vive la France!
It's too easy to shove people into boxes. Then we can dismiss them with a shrug. Typical Jew. Typical American. Typical liberal, typical conservative. Just a typical man...or woman. First we generalize, then we belittle. It's only a short step to turning the other person into a Them. You know, the They who are Out to Get Us. Us vs. Them. They are no good. Them is the Enemy, the faceless nonpersons we're allowed to hate.
While this person may have been a typical jerk, he was most certainly not a typical Frenchman, and it was only my anger that caused me to snap out that comeback.
My point? Just this: No matter who we are, and how rational we think we are, we all have to be on guard against this tendency to simplify our world picture by popping people into boxes. It may be typical...but it's wrong.