On Stereotypes

Ryan NealCulture, General, Leadership, Ryan Neal

“I stereotype. It’s faster” – George Clooney (as Ryan Bingham in the 2009 motion picture: Up in the Air)

Stereotypes. We all subscribe to them. The ones you trust might be different than my favorites, but you’d be hard pressed to deny having any or being swayed by them.

Though the book is not about stereotypes per se, but rather about considering how we make instantaneous decisions in the “blink” of an eye, Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking is a helpful work to consider how easily, and in many ways how purposefully, our brains can figure out some things before we are even aware of it. The focus for today is not, however, on the “adaptive subconscious” – as its called in the field of psychology – rather on the potential negatives that come with snap judgments and blink-of-an-eye decision-making in normal, routine activity with others.

To be clear: there are times when you need to follow what your defense mechanism auto-response system “tells you.” That sudden nervousness when you think someone is watching you might be accurate. You might really be in danger. I’m not telling you to ignore basic clues or instinctual responses that are innate and designed to protect you.

What I am wanting you to do is stop and consider what stereotypes guide your daily routine. Especially, consider how you deal with and engage people you don’t know well, and perhaps have just met. Do you make judgments that hamper your dealings with them? Do your stereotypes lead to a spiral-effect of self-fulfilling prophecies as they often can in work place or school settings?

Here is where you might expect me to list some common stereotypes. Because that might only defeat the purpose of the thought experiment I will forgo listing stereotypes. You can think of the most common in your life and simply ponder how you have been wrong and where your stereotypes have failed.

For an alternative approach please take a look with me at 1 Samuel 16.1-13.

Though this is not the ideal approach to handling scripture, we’re going to jump into the middle of the scene for expediency and consider the question before us:

When it comes time to anoint a new king, then naturally the strongest, ablest one was chosen, right? The one who might best be a leader in battle? The one with the most resources? The one with the most support? Well, no and yes, at the same time. If the criteria for selection are based on how we judge and assess a future king, the outcome would likely have been different. You know, if you used stereotypes to decide.

God doesn’t stereotype, because the considerations and criteria involved are extraordinarily different than the ones we often rely upon.

Specifically, read 1 Samuel 16.7 . “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’”

We don’t have the perspective of God, so we cannot see things rightly and fully, as God can.

We do, however, have the responsibility of looking beyond our stereotypes, editing them for accuracy, and even dismissing them altogether. Overall, stereotypes are problematic for sound thinking, and a wider perspective on the person in front of you. More specifically, we need to move beyond the surface qualities and features that guide our stereotypes. A librarian would say “don’t judge a book by its cover.” I say: “be careful about making decisions – even split-second judgment calls on unfounded, outdated, stereotypical grounds.” Jesus rightly says: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

More precisely, and in contradistinction to Ryan Bingham, I say: “Don’t stereotype. It’s dumber.”