Culture has a tendency to decide that it is either this or that.
From there are regular consequence is, that it is either for or against something.
It’s a shortcut. One that ignores the context or the reason of being of such an idea.
One of these examples that appear frequently is that “stereotypes are bad”.
It’s something I’ve often been told but at the same time, I have often used them with benefit.
To me, stereotypes help me to get a view of groups. May they be groups of people who have similar beliefs and interest. May they be groups of people who have similar views on the world and behaviors.
When my work is to understand the way people prefer to communicate and act, it is stereotype based personality type models that help me. When my task is marketing I seek to describe the group of people interested in a specific service. Then selecting ideas and behaviors allowing to show a connection between service and audience will be my go-to solution. In both cases, there is a need for generalization and categorization to be able to distinguish groups of people from individuals.
It is generalizing and categorizing which created the preconceived idea that stereotypes are bad. We live in a culture in which the individual is the hero and individuality is celebrated. In such a culture generalization and categorization need to be avoided by all means. The fear to lose individuality makes it difficult to acknowledge that we also belong to a group and that such a group exists based on common traits and shared elements.
Being reduced to a stereotype seems to create the idea to have lost one’s individuality.
Archetypes, on the other hand, are welcome. They allow developing the individual based on the type described with the archetype.
An archetype seems to be a starting point where the stereotype is seen as an endpoint.
And that’s where culture with its shortcuts kicks in.
It establishes individuality as the norm while expecting conformity with the norm of individuality.
A paradox. One stereotype helps to resolve, if and only if we don’t use them as endpoints, or prejudices, but as starting points. When Authors create a character based on an archetype they use their curiosity and imagination to add the individuality. We need to do the same with stereotypes. We can do so by using them as the starting point for our curiosity. It’s the path to recognize and also see the individual.
It’s the lack of curiosity that transforms stereotypes into prejudices.
Stereotypes give us references we can recognize as we’ve experienced them in our life. Allowing ourselves to create and have a stereotype as reference point enables us to describe groups of people. Discovering where the individuals differ from this generalized idea allows us to build a relationship with them.