(Photo credit: Steve Sawyer)
It’s a natural response when encountering the new or unknown, be it a person, place or thing—human beings size up whatever is before them, instinctively deciding whether it’s a friend or foe, a threat or an opportunity.
I am a so-called ‘third-culture’ kid. I am one type of Asian with mixed ancestry, raised in another Asian country with a completely different culture, studied in Chinese, British, American, and Canadian schools, speak four languages and later worked and lived in Russia and Europe. People who have attempted to categorise me and put me in a box have had difficulty because my multicultural upbringing turned me into a bit of a chameleon—easily adapting and adopting the culture, manner of speaking and even accent of the person I’m speaking with. There are more and more people like this in the world—a mix of so many things that they form a unique subculture of their own.
When meeting people from another culture, country, religion, social class, social group, generation, etc., consulting one’s generalisations based on knowledge or previous encounters may help break the ice. Based on my own background, it’s true that in many Asian cultures, people tend to be less direct, many don’t appreciate too much touching or air-kissing. It could be useful to observe these rules when first meeting someone from a conservative (or simply, different) culture. It’s culturally sensitive and respectful. However, if a person appears to deviate from all these cultural generalisations, then accept it as such and proceed to getting to know the person free from further assumptions.
Here are 5 reasons why you’d be on the losing end if you hold on too tightly to stereotypes and generalisations:
1. Having stereotypes encourages categorisation of people you don’t even know.
2. Kills curiosity because you think you already know all there is to know about a person based on your own limited knowledge.
3. Makes you react preemptively to an assumption which means you can be defensive or offensive depending on what you assume the person thinks of you.
4. Makes you look like a fool.
5. Creates a whole lot of unnecessary trouble, for yourself and the people you interact with.
Once again, there are obviously generalisations which can be used as a starting point for conversations or interaction, but don’t cling on to these generalisations as if you were holding on to dear life. You can’t keep going back to them after meeting people who have already proven your initial stereotypes wrong.
Let me end with a cliché, free your mind, and the rest will follow.