While it's true that we think in terms of categories and classifications, there are times when this kind of thinking is an insult to humanity.
We learned in school that all the various sciences are based on classifications. In biology we have insects (bees, flies, ants, etc.), mammals (man, cats, dogs, bears, etc.). Math has various classifications, too (arithmetic, algebra, trig, statistics, etc). Writing is also categories (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, etc.) Even in everyday life we think in categories (chairs, houses, cars, etc.) And all those categories have sub-categories.
This is good. Using categories helps us to keep our thought process a bit more organized – and in this vast new world, it's imperative that we find ways to classify various objects and thought processes. Categorization generally helps facilitate communication. Media does it all the time. Republicans vs Democrats, men vs women, old vs young. It just makes life a little easier for us to understand each other.
But there comes a time when classifying does a huge disservice. When we start mis-classifying things or putting them into the wrong categories; or, when we use the broadest classification to describe something (all haciendas are houses, but not all houses are haciendas, some are made of wood, or brick or stucco) we blur our thinking. This stereotyping leads to a world of inaccuracies that can be downright dangerous.
Remember yesterday's post where we thought about people not being data, statistics, etc.? People are not faceless numbers.They do have some similar characteristics. They have two legs, two hands, one head. If you go back far enough in history you'll find they all have common parents. They change over time by virtue of their experiences and level of education. They inherit different shades of skin – which if we think about it, is little more than than adaptation to the climatic elements in which their side of the family lived for generations. They think and they feel pain. Numbers do not.
Stereotyping is dangerous!
We all do it. It's a habit that writers struggle to combat every day. We do it in conversations with our neighbors without even thinking.
We forget that every word has a connotation and calls up an image in our minds.
Think of it this way. I tell you, "I went to my parents house on a mild summer day." Your mind pulls up a specific picture, right? You might think of a Cape Cod in a Chicago suburb and the weather, being mild, may be around 70 degrees with a few cotton clouds overhead.. Or, because you live in Phoenix you think of a flat roof adobe and the heat index may be around 90 degrees. But in reality I'm telling you that I went to visit my parents who live in a log cabin up near Seattle; it was misty and perhaps just warm enough that I didn't need a sweater. I. know what I meant. You call up something that relates to what I said. Good so far. But if these are two different images, we really have not communicated, have we? But then generally speaking, this isn't terribly disconcerting. This kind of conversation is casual and the specifics aren't critical to the general message that I went to visit my parents and relatively speaking the weather was nice.
But when we start taking this casual thinking into other areas of our lives, we are asking for trouble. This is where prejudice comes from and where we start getting into the aspects of pre-judging people and events. First of all it's downright sloppy thinking. And, oh, that can lead to all kinds of anger and animosity.
The point is, each individual in a category is unique. One Caucasian may be a crackhead, even 100 of them may be crackheads, but not all Caucasians are crackheads. We may be at war with terrorists; and, some terrorists are from the Middle East. But not everyone whose family originated in the Middle East is a terrorist. All Christians may read the Bible but not all of them live their lives by the principles the Bible teaches. Not all Indians are Native Americans. Not everyone in a specific nationality group is bad, although we certainly do know some in every nationality who are.
We need to stop equating different categories with "good" and "bad". and start thinking in terms of what really is.
Before we pass judgement, let's stop a moment and clarify just exactly what we're talking about and let's be very specific in the words we use. It's the first premise of good writing: to be concise and clear in the words we use. It's even more important in the way we think about the world we live in today.
Not all Republicans think alike. Not all Democrats agree with each other. They each may have common patterns of thought processes, beliefs and behavior but every one deserves to be heard before we pass judgement. It really doesn't matter if we agree or disagree with them..and not one of those people can be judged as being good or bad just because they fall into their respective political group
At the risk of offending some, I think we seniors are more prone to this kind of sloppy thinking. Our youngsters still see the world around them in terms of a very limited range of exposure. Older people have listened to a lot more slanted hype. Let's face it, everyone who has anything to do with the media and advertising knows if you repeat a message often enough and emphatically enough people will believe what you say. It's up to us, to sift through all those messages.
I'm on a mission to stomp out stereotyping and I invite you to join me.