See Past the Stereotypes
If you were asked to give a description of a person, do you pay close enough attention to give an accurate description of them? Let’s take a short, non-scientific test and see.
1) Describe the characteristics of a baby you know. Write down five of their characteristics before you read further.
2) Describe the characteristics of a teenager you know. Write down five of their characteristics before you read further.
3) Describe the characteristics of an adult (18-50 years of age) you know. Write down five of their characteristics before you read further.
4) Describe the characteristics of an older adult (past 75 years of age) you know. Write down five of their characteristics before you read further.
For babies, did your first five descriptors included the words adorable, cute and chubby? For older adults, did your first five descriptors included the words grey hair, glasses and wrinkles? For teenagers and adults, did you feel you were able to give a more detailed description of these people? If the words I mentioned above for babies and older adults were in your descriptions, you missed out on a lot of characteristics about the person. If you didn’t include them, congratulations! You see past the stereotypes and really look at the individual person.
Why is it that many of us can’t come up with more definitive words to describe certain age groups? One word – stereotypes. Stereotype is defined as a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. In order to really see the individual, we need to pay closer attention to avoid stereotyping.
Avoiding stereotyping people should be important to us as part of the human race; especially as the population keeps growing. We must not lose sight of the trees for the forest; or in other words, we must not lose sight of the individual for the masses. When we lose sight of the individual, it’s easy for us to lose sight of their value.
Now an assignment. As you come into contact with people in your life – pay closer attention. See past the oversimplified descriptions that stereotype them to the details that individualize them. What color are their eyes? Do they have dimples when they smile? Do they have any identifying marks? Do they have an accent when they speak? Use your senses as appropriate to see, smell, and hear the characteristics of a person. Sight is probably the most used of all senses in recalling a person, but one may wear a particular cologne, for example.
I encourage you to start seeing past the stereotypes that box us in, to the details that free us as individuals. Make a habit of it. Realize that stereotypes go beyond just physical descriptions to attitudinal, personality type, etc. With enough consciousness about what we see in people, someday stereotypes may become a thing of the past. One can only hope.