Friday, 23 March 2012

Stereotyping: A Choice Made

When a painter starts to paint a beautiful painting, he visualizes it a certain way. He adds colors, shapes, geometric designs, and all his creativity to it on the basis of that imagination. During the entire time that he is painting, he feels it will turn out to be exactly what he wants. On completion though, the painting looks dreary and lifeless sometimes. He goes back to change either of the elements to transform it into his desired state. After the morphing process, the painting looks as good as it should. Short sightedness influences his perceptions, but reality is far from different.

We frequently talk about macroeconomic issues, about social issues at a global level. We talk about how they’ve impacted lives. We discuss their humongous affects. But have we ever trickled the issues down to a grass root level? Issues usually commence at the very basic level and later aggravate to generate issues of huge magnitudes. Discrimination is a common practice at all levels, but it breeds from stereotypes at smaller levels.

Often unaware of what we’re doing we tend to stereotype people ourselves. Once, when I asked a friend of mine whose birthday had passed previously for a birthday treat, another friend of mine said that he won’t give one. “Yeh Memon hai yaar, treat dey hee naa dey” (translation: He is a Memon, he won’t give a treat thus).

“All muslims are terrorists”, “Blondes are dumb”, “Women who wear hijaab are religious”
are some other common stereotypes that we might have come across. Every day we judge people on the basis of the community, race and religion they belong to, on their appearance, their preferences, their choices and what not. But we don’t consider how hurtful it is until we witness a scenario in which we ourselves are being labeled.

Stereotyping is similar to the “Six Blind Men and the Elephant Story” where they judge the elephant according to what information they have access to. Their relative perspectives are a consequence of factors that are beyond their span of control. But when we stereotype, it is a choice that we make. We choose not to know people first and label them on the basis of pre-conceived notions.

On my first day at my University I saw people entering the class room and immediately after a glimpse I started generalizing and judging them on how they looked or spoke. To this day, none of the first impressions have turned out to be true in any case whatsoever. All those people have proved to be totally different persons when I actually got to know them.

So many countries in contemporary times are participating in exchanges to change perceptions and typical stereotypes that other nationals have about them. Governments in the West are funding exchange programs massively to develop cross cultural understanding. They see it as an investment towards the change they envision.

As mentioned earlier also, stereotypes exist at the extreme basic level. Universities that offer programs in diverse disciplines have students encompassing certain stereotypes about programs that they themselves do not belong to. Identifying this problem, a few students from SZABIST have started a full fledge campaign on spreading awareness about inter-program stereotypes and removing/altering them. The initiative has been named “Paradigm Shift” and has been marketed through different mediums. It will serve as a platform for students to discuss their programs, facilitating the cause and assisting the initiators to achieve their objectives.

It’s time that we the educated lot start bringing about a transformation in the way we see others. If education cannot even change the practice of one group stereotyping the other then all of it goes in the trash. Dumbledore in the Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets said "It is our choices Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."