Open Bar: Conflicts arise because we feel wedded to our stereotypes our ourselves and others (column)
October 29, 2017
I am told that the universe is constantly expanding. Not able to verify this for myself, I nonetheless believe this mind-blowing concept to be true. Cool as it is, it gives me agita. Already inundated with information, I must accept that this rush will not only fail to slow but will, in fact, increase infinitely.
Faced with inestimable data points each minute of our lives, it is no wonder that we take shortcuts, use stereotypes to easily classify groups so that we can begin to make sense of the world. Inarguably, these tricks, like all laziness, fail us in the end, are responsible for so many social ills that it mocks any attempts to call human civilization advanced. But the real damage happens when we stereotype ourselves.
Composed of a swirl of elements just like every living creature, but also gifted with/tortured by the alleged capability for reason, the human individual is remarkably complex. It is rare to find someone who has occasionally brilliant flashes of self-awareness, let alone a person who truly knows the intricacies of him- or herself. Subject to the whims of emotion, the ravages of disease, the joys of freedom, we internally process a ton each day and sometimes, not just after a few beers, can awake to feel like a stranger to ourselves. Thus, we turn to ciphers to organize our thoughts about ourselves.
A person who, by nurture or temperament, is usually quiet and reserved self-classifies as an introvert. When faced with a daunting social situation, this person automatically defaults to their self-stereotype and doesn't engage with others in the manner that perhaps she wishes that she could. Then, when debriefing the encounter, instead of taking a hard look at motivations and reactions, she is able to write it all off as her being her. It may make one comfortable, but it is certainly not a means for growth.
The proverbial bulldog has always viewed himself as such. He acts like a jerk because he relies too heavily on his own stereotype. Because he believes that he has a forceful personality, that's just who he is, he thinks that he always has to project a venomous facade. This is overly, and damagingly, reductionist. There are nuances in life, situations where being aggressive is the right choice and times when backing down from the ledge spares everyone heaps of heartache. A functional human being needs to be able to sort out how to act accordingly.
The picture that we create of ourselves is usually lacking in dimension and depth. It may be an outgrowth of our upbringing, where being the first child or the middle child or the short child carried with it the commensurate expectations of that positioning. But as we grow into adulthood, we cannot let ourselves be pegged with the image created so long ago.
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Conflicts arise because we feel wedded to our stereotypes. Believing too much in our own hype, we can then abdicate responsibility more easily for our poor choices and action. But, our stereotypes are completely artificial constructs; we are all capable of amazing feats of flexibility and adaptation. In the same way that people with the same skin color are radically different from one another, we as individuals can be many different things at once. It is time to let each facet of our personalities have their time to shine. Peace can come when each of us brings the appropriate element of ourselves to bear in any given situation.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner-mediator at Voice of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.