HOW TO AVOID STEREOTYPING

by Monica Moldovean

The Cambridge dictionary’s definition of a stereotype is: “a fixed idea about what a particular type of person is like, especially an idea that is wrong”. (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/stereotype)

How did this abstract definition translate into my personal life?

Almost 11 years ago I stepped foot in the loud and chaotic big city life of Bucharest. I was coming from “the country side” – one nice,quiet, neat city in the south eastern part of Transylvania – Brasov. With a bit over 500.000 inhabitants, my hometown is indeed a quarter of what is the registered number of residents in Bucharest. The big difference does not lie in the figures, but in the unique mix of people from all over the country and more recently, all over the world. And what everyone brings to the table, whether it’s the public libraries, the student campuses, the shady neighborhoods, the seemingly unapproachable corporations or the fancy downtown cafes and pubs.

First day at the University gave me a headache – so many faces and names and people! Different people! I thought I would never get to know the names of my group colleagues (we were around 14) let alone the rest of them (70 in my major and over 250 in the entire year). 7 years later I realizedI know most of my 70 major colleagues together with their current activities,projects or jobs.

Life gave me the same challenge when I took on my first job within one of the largest multinational corporations in the IT products and services industry. I was one of the 40 people in my team and one of the3000 employees at that time in Romania.

Both cases made me feel overwhelmed with the information overload, differences between people, and variations in needs, interests and backgrounds. For quite some time I was under the impression that I had to adapt to everyone and try to talk using their own language. It was my belief that by doing this, I would get along with people and also show that I am open minded and prejudice/ stereotype free.

Little did I know that this would not be the best solution and would cost me a great deal of energy and time. As we grow up, we have a multitude of information coming our way and flooding our brains. The need for a fast paced learning in order to adapt makes us learn about categories, about what is right and wrong, good and bad. And pretty soon we grow up with a certain image about how the world is or about how people are supposed to look and behave. Everything contradicting this image is not natural, not normal or even monstrous – depending on our personal level of tolerance. Here is how stereotypes are born. And we take them with us everywhere we go, including at work. Every day.

If we are talking about what is wrong or right in terms of race or religion or talk about how a child should be raised or a project delivered, we can fall into the trap of stereotyping)

In a world that rapidly heads towards globalization and the universal concept of “citizens of the world” and freedom of speech & being,there are multiple ways of doing things. We are free to choose the way we want to live, study and work, but our minds should be open to alternatives as we simply can’t know it all.

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