Thoughts on Stereotypes
I don’t have any problem with stereotypes.
In fact, I think being able to think in stereotypes is essential for our survival. It’s a way to simplify the complex world around us. Without it, it would be very difficult for our brain to comprehend a world which is far more complex than itself.
For example, when we’re born, we have no understanding of what gravity is. However, as we grow up, we learn that things have a tendency to fall, and slowly we learn the “stereotype” that everything falls.
Stereotypes are mental abstractions we use to simplify our world. They allow us to make assumptions based on past experiences instead of wasting valuable mental power to re-assess every situation from scratch.
It’s important to know that stereotypes are just a guideline to how we look at people or things, and there are always exceptions. Going back to our gravity example, we went on to make the assumption that everything falls until the first time we saw a gas balloon or an airplane that fly in the air instead of falling to the ground. From that point on, we refine our mental model of the world and form new stereotypes.
Stereotypes are only problematic when we try to generalize them beyond their “boundaries of applicability” or when they become so ingrained in our value system as to prevent us from making an objective assessment of the situation at hand.