By Rosalind Ho 25th Sept 2020
Breaking this habit will lead to happier and peaceful relationships.
According to Cardwell, 1996, a stereotype is a fixed, over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. For example, a “hells angel” biker dresses in leather.
In the broader society, we face stereotyping on a daily basis, whether at home or in school but especially so in the workplace. This is exactly what is happening in many parts of the world now when people who feel stereotyped wants a change in the behavior of the opposing party.
Often, it is due to differences in thinking, lifestyles, behavior, culture, et cetera. The disparity and lack of understanding results in miscommunication, misunderstanding, and apathy. Anger, aggression, and violence do not provide solutions.
Human beings will never be perfect. We are born pure but conditioned by our upbringing, environment, and culture to have a certain perceived notion about events and people around us. How often have we heard statements like, “ Women are bad drivers”, “ Youth is wasted on the young”, “You are too old to be doing this” and so on?
The more you stereotype others, the less you understand them. The more you or others stereotype yourself, the more limitations you set on yourself.
Advantages to Stereotyping
There may be some advantages to stereotyping, however. It may enable us to respond rapidly to situations because we or someone else may have similar experiences before. It comes in handy when you need to analyze a person or event quickly.
As the old adage says, “ Birds of the same feather flock together”. If a particular group clearly displays undesirable behavior, and your son’s friend belongs to that group, it bodes well to dissuade or caution your child about his contacts.
In addition, if you want to be progressive in a certain skill and you are impatient to be endowed with the skill, it only makes sense that you hang around people whom you think have the expertise and likely to influence you to gain a deeper interest in your development of the skill.
If I want to know more about effective writing, for example, I would go to read about works written by popular authors. How I would stereotype ‘popular authors’ would be to look at the number of followers on the author’s profile. There is a reason why some of them have a following to the tune of six figures.
Disadvantages to Stereotyping
Stereotyping has led to discrimination and prejudice of people resulting in strife and unhappiness. We act before we even think. This gut feeling is not always useful and not accurate as well.
One disadvantage is that you only see one aspect of the person or group and ignoring other positive traits inherent in the other party. You may fail to overlook an important factor that could contribute to yourself or your organization as a whole because of your insignificant bias. You have made a generalization.
One time, my son who is not exactly a sharp dresser but a high saver was looking to buy a car and he was in his mid-twenties. He came back dejected that he did not get any service and was largely ignored. One salesperson finally came forward to explain to him sincerely. Well, he was stereotyped by most of them to be unaffordable of the car, I told him.
A badly dressed or inappropriate dressed person is unlikely seen to be a customer. He is seen as someone with not enough money to buy a car and more likely to be viewing cars as a hobby or fascination. My son said he was going back to buy the car from the sincere salesman.
Hence, the non-stereotyper got his business and laughed his way to the bank. My son thought it was a good way to draw the sincere and genuine seller who is not discriminatory but I told him that the better lesson learned is to improve on his dressing.
Not stereotyping others help us to think better. We make better friends, recruit better staff even marry better partners.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
How to stop stereotyping others
1 Understand the other party first — learn more about their likes, culture, personality before jumping into a conclusion. In the group, see the individual as one and not necessarily part of the group.
Celebrate diversity, make more friends, eat their food, pick up their lingo. You will find it more interesting than you think.
2 Look for the good-everyone has talent in different forms. You can learn something from everybody if you are able to excavate it. I learned much Chinese history from my patient who was a cashier with NTUC who turned out to be a very studious design graduate from Suzhou University. She benefitted from my teaching of English.
Every time you are inclined to stereotype others, train your mind to think another way and look for the positive traits.
3 Be mindful — Recognize when you are stereotyping someone and think of occasions when someone surprises you beyond your expectations. I had many occasions to meet foreigners who speak Mandarin better than many Chinese educated people. That is because they put in the interest and the effort to upskill themselves.
One time, we were asking for directions in a New York subway. The young black man we met was enthusiastic and friendly and he immediately engaged with me in Mandarin which he spoke with fluency and accuracy.
In our short conversation, I found out that he had learned Mandarin by himself watching Youtube and his dream was to go to Beijing to work and study Mandarin. I was very inspired.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and remember how you were being biased or prejudiced before. Or someone had said something demeaning to you because they have stereotyped you.
The next time, you are inclined to judge, remind yourself to be more empathetic, and seize the opportunity to create new friendships and be inspired.
How to stop being stereotyped by others
1 Develop respect for others.
One way is to be culturally humble. — The world is a diverse place inhabited by people of all races, cultures, and religions. Create curiosity and attitude to be interested in others. There are many refreshing and useful concepts that can be gleaned from other cultures and they can learn from us too. Interact in such a way that you consider others first without criticism. Then you will be greatly respected in turn.
A good principle was said by Confucius: Do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you.
2 Be broadminded and accepting of others. You can win a friend when you listen more and talk less. Moreover, you learn more. Communication is the bridge to a reliable relationship. As others open up to you so must you reciprocate such that there are trust and faith built in your interaction.
3 Refuse to be stereotyped — When people are prejudiced against you, take it as a challenge to prove yourself. You may not succeed at first but at least you have tried and you should try again.
Persistence will pay off if you build on your strengths. Behind this is hard work which involves gaining knowledge, learning skills, and sharing them if they benefit others.
The world is already global and connected. Diversity is here to stay and the world will become more complex as people evolve. We will never become one homogeneous race even it is the same race in one country. Because human beings are too different in their thoughts, likes, and upbringing. For a better world, one has to be aware of the stereotype habit.
Stereotyping is a threat to personal and corporate progress as well as happiness in life. It even threatens peace in general. We must break the stereotype habit, and substitute a new, better thought process in our modern world.