Most of us know what a stereotype is. It’s an oversimplified, general opinion about what something or someone is like. You’ve probably also heard of labor-saving devices. Well, stereotypes are thought-saving devices, because when you accept a stereotype, you don’t have to think for yourself at all. Your idea comes to you frozen, prepackaged, and ready to use. You just thaw it out and slip it into your brain like a frozen pizza into a microwave – nothing further is required.
The trouble with stereotypes is that they deny the uniqueness of each human being’s heritage and experience, and do the same to the folks employing the stereotypes. When we deny others, we also deny ourselves. Sanctioning those pre-packaged ideas denies us the use of our own brains, because they require that we ignore who we are and what we know from our own personal experience.
Stereotypes, and the people who employ them, also have extremely cynical views of the world. They don’t think very highly of others, assume a possibly false sense of their own superiority, and they count on us being too lazy or distracted to look beyond what we hear, see or read. Stereotypes become an assault on the self-esteem of anyone within range. The good news is that we can choose to not play this game.
If you want to grow as a person, to be as effective as you can be, you want to become your own authority. Do your own research, your own thinking. Look beneath the surface, and be wary of labels, which are one-size-fits-all stereotypes. Human beings come in all sizes and styles, all colors and models, every kind of talent and gift, and all gloriously different! And it is long past time to celebrate our differences, not ridicule them.
Oversimplification and overgeneralization rob you of your power and others of their uniqueness. And at the same time, you are denying your own uniqueness. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but each of us does have the choice to reject the mental shorthand, do a little self-reflection and take the opportunity to do our own thinking.