Social Stereotypes And Why Need To Grow Above Them

Posted on December 1, 2010 in Society

By Pallavi Murthy:

It’s generally astonishing and embarrassing to find yourself stuck as the only communicator between people of 3 groups of different languages. Well, this was my condition when I was travelling from Chennai to New Delhi by Tamil Nadu express (the three were Tamilian, Andhraite and Bhopali). There was a communication gap between the people of these three groups and I who knew all the three languages had to bridge this gap. But one very interesting thing about this ‘bridging the gap’ experience was that I got to personally interact with people of three different groups who belong to three different backgrounds and get an understanding of what they feel about the other socially different group. The Tamil gang had a prejudiced opinion about the Andhraites that they are too backward and illiterate while about the Bhopali the Tamilians felt that they were too modern because of their dressing and way of speaking. Surprisingly, I got similar prejudiced opinions from the other two groups about each of the other group.

I was taken aback because in a country like India, where we say there is ‘unity in diversity’, I never expected this kind of a gesture. I thought we were “proud of its rich and varied heritage” (INDIAN PLEDGE). We were supposedly proud of the diverse languages, cultures and traditions. But now this diversification has further been diversified into caste, creed, religion, social status etc. Well, this is what we refer to as social stereotypes or social categorization.

In India these social stereotypes are prevalent. We generally tend to form an opinion about a particular group, or let me put it this way, a particular category due to a past experience with an individual of that group or due to a rumour or an overheard conversation and then our actions speak. This leads to generalization. For example, an individual having a notion about the BJP as a bad party would never go and vote for any individual who represents the BJP, however good or bad. In Hindi there is a proverb, “Ek gandi machli pure talab ko ganda kar deti hai” which means that one bad fish spoils the entire lake. But this happens only because we are categorizing the people into groups and pre-judging them based on groups and not based on how that particular individual is. Most of the stereotypes are assumptions and generalizations that are not always true for all individual cases.

Most of the times there are negative impacts associated with stereotypes. Stereotypes are generally undesirable. Stereotypes are just observations or generalizations; they are not behavioural prescriptions i.e. they do not tell us how to behave with or towards an individual. But, unfortunately we tend to behave with a person based on our or other’s observation. Stereotypes just tell us about what a particular group of people tend to do in general and not how we should treat them. Stereotypes need to reduce and we need to move above them. We should judge a person based on his/her individual characteristics and treat them accordingly. Stereotypes can hamper an individual’s performance and achievement in a particular field. Also such stereotypes create a gap between the different individuals. If India has to progress then we need to rise above these stereotypes.

Now it depends on an individual’s opinion what they feel about social stereotypes. In my opinion they are harmful for the progress of the country. Dear reader, what do you feel? Do stereotypes have a detrimental, neutral or beneficial effect on society? Do comment!

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