The gift of stereotypes

Stereotypes help us understand one another.

But somewhere along the line, stereotypes received… a bad stereotype. And it stuck.

It might have started with prejudice against the slaves in America. Or it might go back further than that. I’m not sure. I do know, though, that the word “stereotype” now carries a negative connotation.

But not in my mind. In my mind, stereotypes are a blessing.

Imagine a world without any stereotypes. None.

You walk up to a table for the 100th time, “Hey, I have no idea what that is. I’ll call it a spable.” Really, every time you see a table, you have no idea what it is because you can’t classify it. That’s what stereotyping does.

Stereotypes are how our minds classify information. Without them, while we certainly wouldn’t consider a person’s nationality a fault, we wouldn’t consider that person a person at all. “Person” is a classification. We might even treat that person like a spoon. Because at first, we wouldn’t know the difference.

You’re familiar with how we can use stereotypes negatively (because they’re the ones in the news): men, old, blond, black. But you might not have realized some of our more common (positive?) stereotypes:

  • Person
  • Table
  • Smart
  • Food
  • Green

It’s how we think for the most part. Even if we restrict our discussion of stereotypes to humans, stereotypes are still necessary for personal interaction.

Wikipedia defines stereotypes this way:

A stereotype is a type of logical oversimplification in which all the members of a class or set are considered to be definable by an easily distinguishable set of characteristics.” (My emphasis added)

Humans are too complex for other humans to understand. Every attempt to understand one another is an oversimplification.

Options:

  1. We can stereotype and try to understand one another, or…
  2. Or we can bury our heads, avoiding stereotypes but at the same time burying our ability to try to understand one another.

I, for one, choose number one.

Stereotypes are a gift for humans. I don’t think fish stereotype much. But who wants to live like that? (And yes, I did just stereotype the fish.)

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