Social stereotyping happens when people assume a set of things about others because of their traits, affinities and associations. This can then segue into prejudice and then discrimination and before you know it reaches a level of gross unfairness. Age, gender, race are the obvious types, but the subtler and more unspoken ones can be equally dangerous to us as a society.
Rather than talk about why it shouldn’t exist (which it most certainly shouldn’t) we could focus on two positive approaches. One, shaping progressive thinking to ensure fewer instances of such unwarranted judgement. Two, looking inward to see how we can rise above it by recognising it for what it is.
We all sometimes fall prey to seeing a person as a sum total of our opinions of him or her. The judgemental streak if not controlled begins to shape our views into clubbing them as those we resonate with and those we don’t. Or rather, as those who conform to our thinking and those who don’t. The fundamental incorrectness of this approach becomes obvious in our interactions with them. You will find that pre-suppositions often end up colouring responses.
Stereotyping perhaps occurs when you see a person as part of a group – a group you are familiar with and assign certain characteristics and values to. How about looking at a person as a person – a whole new encounter with a fresh set of eyes? That way we bin all the perceptions that tend to get in the way of fair and frank dialogue.
The next step, I think, would be to see how we can look at people and see them as unique and gifted individuals…