We all fight against stereotypes and yet we all apply stereotypes, even subconsciously. Through my training with FranklinCovey, I’ve come to learn a few things about how our brains work. For example, the emotional and reactive area of our brain is buried deep near the brain stem and the more analytical and cognitive section of our brain is in the frontal lobe. While not truly understanding how everything works, I will make the assumption that it is the emotional and reactive part of our brain that drives stereotypes. I can imagine back in the Neanderthal days it was literally a matter of life and death to be able to size up an opponent quickly and either fight or flee. Now we apply cultural or societal stereotypes like “she’s tall, she must play basketball” or “he is dressed really well, he must be wealthy” or how about “he’s Latino, I’ll have to watch him closer” or “she’s old, she won’t be technically savvy.”
How do those stereotypes make us feel? Think about the stereotypes that are applied to you. In a way they box you into certain expectations, either high or low. If it is assumed that your performance will be low, how does that affect your actual performance? Do you drive to break that stereotype or do you feel more inclined to give up or do the minimum because that is all that is expected? I know that I can go both ways on this question. Sometimes I am spurred on by the assumption that I am not able to accomplish a goal and work hard just to show that I can. Other times, I give in to the stereotype because I lack motivation to do otherwise.
The real question is why do I have to prove anything to anyone else in the first place? Stereotypes are expectations or assumptions placed on us by others. I know I don’t stereotype myself but I have to work hard not to stereotype others. It is easy to guess that a big burly man with tattoos and leather is a biker guy who is tough and mean. When I work to look past the exterior and really listen to people and their story of life, you find that big burly tough guy is a wonderful guy taking care of his elderly mother. To find out who that underlying person truly is however takes work, time and trust; the qualities of a good leader and a good friend.
CEO, The Professional Development Team