Self Improvement

Things To Think About

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Being Human

The Condition Of Our ConditionArticles on the Human condition and how we might improve it.

Prisoners of Stereotypes    By R.E. Darby

Stereotype thinking isn't necessarily dysfunctional thinking. Too often we overlook the true and complete picture of what the concept of stereotyping is, and because of that, we limit our possibilities. Used with intelligence, stereotyping can become a useful tool that can enhance efficiency in thought and communication, used inappropriately however, stereotypes can create unnecessary limitations and become a barrier to growth.

Perceptions of Stereotypes

We question whether the stereotypes themselves are the prison that constrains our minds, or is it our perception or lack of understanding of stereotypes that limit us? Or perhaps both?

At first it seems a little strange using the concept of stereotypes with the concept of prisoners, and in an unbiased view of stereotypes this would not work.

But stereotypes are so commonly misused, that this pairing does actually fit, at least to the extent that the inappropriate use of stereotypes can result in our thought processes being restricted / inprisoned by unanticipated and self imposed limitations.

Thinking Liability

It is ironic that a device designed to help facilitate the thinking process can, and has in many cases, become a liability to thinking. It has been said that perception is everything, and in many cases it certainly seems to be true.

But in those cases where it is true, the next step is also everything, how we process what we perceive. But in both cases, perception and processing, every individual has a certain responsibility for a reasonable degree of accuracy.

When this responsibility is not met, stereotypes, as well as a host of other normally helpful concepts, can become problematic.

Stereotypes can be a helpful tool in dealing with large demographic groups and this includes the use of both positive and negative characteristics. But in these circumstances, the use of stereotyping is done consciously for a well defined objective.

It is when we allow ourselves to forget that we are using this behavior that we begin to get into trouble. Thoughtlessly applying either positive or negative stereotypes to individuals or groups of individuals will almost always be an error.

This kind of activity may help us deceive ourselves into believing that we are efficient thinkers, but it is only an illusion in the service of lazy intellectual habits.

For example; it may give us the impression that we are thinking correctly when we choose to evaluate an individual by the use of common characteristics said to be true about a particular group that we assume that individual is a part of, and it is certainly easier to do so, to the extent that it relieves us of the responsibility of having to examine that individual fairly as a unique entity in themselves which requires a personal investment of time and effort.

Unconsciousness Stereotyping

One of the most common consequences of the unconscious use of this stereotyping is the possible development of prejudices. Conclusions of convenience that can be customized to support any agenda of the moment or basic mindset.

The consequences of allowing ourselves to fall into thinking habits such as stereotyping and prejudices occur by means of the soslow and are rarely noticed by us. The soslow is the process by which trees grow. (so slow that we don't notice)

And it is also because of this process that we find it so difficult to become aware of these thinking habits once we have acquired them. Why would we suddenly become aware of something that we never noticed getting in the first place, and have taken for granted for so long in the second place?

Another relatively recent consequence of the unconscious use of stereotypes is the rise of stereotype threat, whereby an individual's performance and other areas of life, are effected adversely as a result of their believing themselves associated with a particular stereotyped group.

For example; studies have shown that female subjects when taking math tests did not do well if they were first exposed to negative stereotypes concerning women and math.

Whole demographics of people have felt the weight of stereotype threat in the area of gender, race, nationality, color, economic background etc.

Other possible consequences of unconscious stereotype thinking are:

  • The development of lazy thinking habits, convenience rather than quality.
  • Achieving only superficial levels of understanding, stereotypes tend to interfere with the act of thinking through a subject.
  • And of course, unjustified prejudices.

Possible Solutions

Sorry, no easy fixes in this arena. But it doesn't have to be real difficult either. This could be a candidate for a little behavior modification, depending on just how long and how deeply involved we may be in these kinds of thinking practices. Conditioning is a powerful tool that, used correctly, can work to our advantage.

While the long term solution for this and other dysfunctional thinking issues is much more complicated and involves developing critical thinking skills and using those skills to raise our awareness, achieve greater understanding and ultimately a higher level of intelligence / consciousness, we can resort to conditioning strategies as an intermediary solution.

But success or failure in all endeavors, will always depend on how well we exercise one of our greatest powers. The power to make a decision. It is common for most people when they hear a statement like this, to think to themselves, 'oh sure, no problem', but that would be an error in thinking and judgment.

When the Human life form is not yet equipped with well developed critical thinking skills, we must be very careful how we proceed in matters such as this. There is much more to making a real decision relating to real issues than we normally consider.

Decisions seem to come in a variety of packages and strengths. But the kind we're looking for here are the high quality full strength variety and they don't come cheap. Think about it. How could one of our greatest powers be some simple superficial intellectual exercise?

No, this power demands an investment of a combination of other powers that we possess. Desire, commitment, determination and self discipline, and each of these has a price as well.

Without this full range of powers, we will not achieve a real decision, but rather only a token decision. Token decisions are designed to give us the impression that we have actually done something real when we haven't, it is a form of self deception and or self manipulation.

We must realize the difference. A real decision comes from a deep desire and is backed up and supported by a meaningful commitment, powered by full determination and regulated by strong self discipline. Token decisions are just words mixed with oxygen and quickly dissipate and are forgotten.

The bottom line is that we are either prisoners of our own stereotypes or we develop the level of intelligence that will allow us to manage our thinking processes.

This is not the appropriate place to go into the details of these powers and their use. It is up to each of us to find the resources that are out there which can help us learn and grow and improve ourselves. One such resource is The Integrated Human course offered by the Agenda of Life Foundation. Good luck on your journey.

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