Personal Story: Stereotypes Criteria of Evaluation
People like to repeat the proverb that there is no smoke without fire. Such simple idea of our ancestors is taken for granted only because it survived for hundreds of years, allows many people to live in the blissful certitude of their rightness and gives them the moral right to justify the others. They think that they are pardoned for applying stereotypes, because they prove it with the proverb, and often disregard the psychological and sometimes even physical damage their words do to their victim. As the result, people are stereotyped in ways they can not even imagine (Lunsford et al., 2012, p. 567).
When I was a high school student, I was unlucky enough to witness the continuous psychological pressure on one of my classmates from the majority of my peers. My classmate was an average girl from a middle-class family. She was good at studying, and in my opinion she was not different from the other girls in our class. She had a pleasant style of communication and wore the same shorts and dresses as other teenage girls. However, there was one peculiar thing that determined the attitude of the girls in our class to her – she was objectively beautiful, while the others were average. It lead to the fact that she was more popular among boys and all her clothes looked better on her. As the result this girl was stereotyped as “slut” by the female part of our class first, and then by all people who knew her. It was evident that the girls did it because they were simply jealous of a more beautiful classmate, but soon the understanding of the initial reason was displaced by the stereotype that there was no smoke without fire, and the reputation of the girl who actually had never had even romantic relationships with boys was spoiled. The only positive issue in this story is that the girl concentrated on her education, became the best student of our year and entered a prestigious university, while the classmates who were busy with stereotyping her were far from such results.
This story shows that sometimes the person who undergoes stereotyping finds strength and abilities to overcome it, and becomes a better person in the result of such experience. It is evident that such experience cost much nerves to my former classmate, but I am almost sure that she would never stereotype people herself, because she knows how destructive it is. It is possible to assume that stereotypical thinking is more damaging for a person who believes in a stereotype than for the others who are stereotyped in the most extraordinary ways.
First of all, it is necessary to define a stereotype as the oversimplified, clichéd and perverted image of reality. The point is that the prejudice narrows the outer world of the person who uses it to the size of the convenient set of stable characteristics, while those who are the subjects for stereotyping have the chance to understand on personal example that clichéd patterns do not work in real life. The negative impact of stereotypical thinking varies from ostracism to oversimplifying reality, and ruins the personality from inside, while the victim of stereotypes can become morally stronger (Steele, 2011, p. 29).
It is possible to claim that if a person is thinking in stereotypes about the world that surrounds him/her, he/she is living in the continuous bad mood. The majority of prejudice are of the negative nature and it is difficult to recollect those that praises something. The psychologists state that the habit for negative thinking is one of the characteristics of depression and apathy. Total dissatisfaction is visible in verbal aggression that the girls who started stereotyping in the story express. Morgan (2004, p. 52) asserts that sarcasm and verbal aggression lower the level of trust with the other people, and provokes verbal aggression in return.
Living in the world of stereotypes and thinking in such oversimplified categories is in fact voluntary killing of the individuality and stopping further development of the personality. A person who stereotypes the world around thinks that he/she knows everything better than the others. That is why his/her life is an example of the right life. It can be compared to taking a tree out of the soil and planting it into a small pot. Such procedure will constrain the roots of the tree that might become strong in other circumstances, and will not allow the tree to grow. Thinking in prejudices is the conscious killing of the tree roots and thus preferring to live in the handicapped world.
It might be strange to consider the negative impact of stereotype on those who potentially harm the others with their verbal aggression. The victim in the described situation is the girl who was stereotyped, her nerves and reputation were ruined, so it might seem illogical to feel for the girls who started offending her. The point is that those girls are able to change if they understand the negative impact of prejudice not only on the others, but on themselves. Human psyche is ruined by aggression, the personality does not develop under pressure of imposed false limits, and if people learn about it, someone might improve him/herself, open the mind and thus make the world a better place to live.
It is evident from the example that the girls who started to gossip about their classmate did not share positive emotions. They were initially jealous of a more popular and beautiful teenager, and wanted to decrease the level of her popularity at school. However, the negative feelings tend to increase in the geometric progression, and every time the lies and the negative emotions the girls generated grew. In the end the girl turned out to be a “slut”, and her classmates closed the eyes on the fact that they assault their ex-friend. I often saw the signs of regret in the behavior of my classmates who participated in the psychological pressure on their peer and stereotyped her, but it was evident that no one could stop this, because in this case he/she will also become the subject of the collective aggression.
The girls who started stereotyping their classmate made the fist step towards continuous oversimplification of reality. They started to use the tendency of primitive logic that creates the popular image of a slut: a girl is beautiful, that is why all clothes on her are sexy, which shows her desire to have intercourse with men, and as the result she obviously has, because descent girls do not have sex appeals. This logic is present in the described situation and does not allow the girls who stereotype to think in a broader context. None of them asked whether someone saw their victim with men, because stereotyping kills the desire to ask questions.
It might be too harsh to call young people cruel, aggressive and primitive, but it might be better to exaggerate the menace if it helps to eliminate it. Stereotyping kills thinking, ruins the personality, aggravates aggression of those who use it as the model of thinking. Those who are stereotyped in the strangest ways might find it absurd and overcome it, but those, who think in such categories are voluntary oversimplifying their life. Time will not add wisdom to people who do not want to change. A young fool will not suddenly become intelligent when he/she is 80 years old. The chances that such person will become an old fool are higher, so it is better not to constrain personality growth by stereotypical thinking.
Morgan, James P. Focus on Aggression Research. Hauppauge: Nova Science Publishers, 2004. Print.