The reinforcing of Stereotypes

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Much as educators and psychologists have advised against the creations and maintenance of stereotypes, it still exists in societies today as it had always existed years before. In fact, stereotyping has become stronger and more impactful than before.

Psychologists would have attributed this to the fact that the human minds have a predilection of categorizing and compartmentalizing things and people so that understanding comes easier. For instance, when we ask about someone’s profession, wouldn’t it be easier to gain an almost instantaneous impression of them based on their responses that they are lawyers than to spend years knowing them as unique individuals?  This is true in knowing a person as an individual as it is true in knowing groups of people.

It is the same for educators, who often attribute (at times non-existent) qualities on a student when the student exhibits certain behavioral traits that is reminiscent of some students the educators have encountered before. These are not the appropriate ways to assess the personality of students. Nor is it a just and judicious manner in which students should be judged. However, with both the convenience and constraints of time, educators often commit this error. Furthermore, the human mind would have approved.

“While stereotyping in these scenarios may seem problematic, nothing is more problematic than when these forms of mental imprints are developed and imposed on not one individual but a group of individuals who share similar traits. “

I believe that none if not few of us would choose to develop certain impressions on a group of people but this often happens over time at a subconscious level. It cuts both ways. So, when we develop positive feelings towards a group of people, that will be great as we will develop happiness whenever we are with them or even talking about them. A mere mental recall is enough to bring euphoria to one’s mood and dialogue.

Rather, it is when our impression swings the other way into negative impressions that problems will result. This occurs based on our previous life experiences of someone who shares similar traits to certain group(s) of people. For instance, if one has been backstabbed by one’s boss in the office (probable on more than one occasion) previously, one might – over time – develop a certain level of mistrust (or even rebelliousness) towards authoritative figures in the future. This might adversely affect their relationship with their bosses – even if they were to leave for other companies.

“This conflicting and affictive feelings in them may follow them wherever they go in their line of work. Over time, these negative emotions may even develop into biases and discrimination. What compounds this problem is that these individuals may not even be aware of these mental afflictions. “

The longer that these people hold these negative sentiments, the deeper will be the distaste towards certain groups of people. They need to know how these unwarranted sentiments are affecting them and more importantly, they need to know the ways to eradicate or at least alleviate these negative sentiments.

One of the best ways to resolve and unwind these emotional knots that these individuals have tied themselves with is to understand that the human mind tends to project the impression someone makes on us to all other similar individuals. These effect works on people as well as on situations. We have seen above how someone can make an impression on us just by mentioning their profession.  Similarly, a bad experience at an event may also make us hesitant in attending similar social functions in the future. More interesting, the way we perceive the world seems to have already been forged in our childhood days.

“In other words, we often live out our lives based on how we perceive the world when we are very young.”

However, there is a way out of this virtual cycle that permeates human living. We need not be resigned or be binded by our childhood days or any negative experiences that we have encountered with people or situations.

Yes, we are able to walk out of this.

But how?

I feel that the best way is to develop compassion. This includes understanding that others have the same needs and wants as us. Understanding this will enable us to develop empathy. However, to reach the level of compassion, we should also take the additional step of wishing them to be well and happy. This might mean sacrificing a promotion so that they are able to be promoted (which kind of reduces backstabbing occurrences in the office and promotes mutual respect and trust), putting in time to communicate with them on issues that might cause further conflicts, letting them know that they are loved or at least respected by us, as well as putting in the time and effort to see the good in them.

Giving advice is the easy part. It’s the application of the value of compassion in our daily lives that will probably require some practice and patience.

” However, as Lao Tzu said, ‘A journey of a thousand mile begins with a single step.’ “

So, let us all take the step in developing compassion and encourage one another to see the good in others, especially the ones we do not take well to. Always.

Patrick Tay is an English Language and Life Skills Training Specialist  who is based in Singapore. He has been teaching communication studies and international issues in polytechnics and writes regularly on various issues of interest in education, media, business and international affairs at patricktay.wordpress.com. He can be contacted at teachingwithart@gmail.com.

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