The car ahead slows, but there is no red light and no stop sign. Waiting to see the reason, you stomp on the brakes, almost colliding as the car darts down a side road. Looking at the license plate, you see they are from [INSERT STATE HERE]. You scoff and say something like, “Figures. People from South Carolina (or California, New York, Alaska, New Mexico, etc.) can’t drive for $#*%!”
It doesn’t matter which state the car was licensed in. We looooooove playing the stereotype game. If we’re really lucky we can see what the driver looks like! Then we get to play racist or misogynist or someone who doesn’t trust grandparents and kids, except for their own, of course.
It’s ok, it’s not your fault.
Well, kind of. It wasn’t your fault until you learned that you were doing it. Now if you do it, it’s definitely your fault.
Here’s a 15 minute video if you want to know why and how we create stereotypes and how to avoid them.
Paul Bloom, the guy in the video, is a psychology professor at Yale. You can even take some of his classes online for free. (The university offers free online classes)
The lesson I took away is this modern-adapted story from philosopher Adam Smith, the father of modern economics.
“Imagine the death of a thousand people in a country you are not familiar with, such as India, China, or somewhere in Africa. How would you respond? You’d say that it is terrible, and go about your life as usual.
Now imagine instead that you learn that tomorrow your little finger will be cut off. That would matter a lot to you. You wouldn’t sleep.”
The golden rule is great in theory, but even better in practice. We are able to actually plan ahead and set up systems to avoid our natural prejudices.
Blind auditions are used by orchestras where the musician plays behind a curtain or screen. According to one study, the number of female musicians increased from 10% in the 1970s to 35% in the 1990s due to this interview method.
“Unless you are a parthenogenically-produced hermit living in a log cabin in the inaccessible woods, you belong, even peripherally, to some tribe. It can be a sports team, religion, political corporate entity, spiritual group, sorority or fraternity, country, cult, ethnic group, profession, sex, race, military branch, political party, pro or anti movement, or any other special interest group.” -Judith Fein, PsychologyToday.com
We may never conquer our natural tendency to categorize unfairly, mostly because it is so useful to us.
If we are honest with ourselves, we can learn each time we overreact, and then set ourselves up to handle the next situation better.