The problem with you and me

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  • The shy, quiet girl
  • The extrovert with no filter
  • The fitness fanatic
  • The ladies’ man
  • The nerd
  • The religious extremist
  • The Darwinist

Which are you? Which least describes you? Which do you like the least?

I’ve become disillusioned with people recently. Why? Because most of us can answer those questions without much thought. We are instantly ready to bucket ourselves and others so broadly. Worse, we readily judge and dismiss those whom we’ve categorised differently from ourselves.

We make snap judgements based on a person’s appearance, background and general demeanour and, based on these judgements, we decide whether we like them or not. Are you guilty of this practice? Perhaps you’re a victim thereof?
For most of us, the answer is sadly “yes” in both cases.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again in the workplace, out in public, even within families;  it always stirs the same disappointment within me. I am disappointed because the side effects of bucketing and judging people so rudimentarily are disastrous:

  • We start to see segregation within the workplace based on characteristics as broad and simplistic as race and gender, which later develops further into interest-based cliques which may resemble some of the categories above. You may argue that this is the natural development of friendships, which is not untrue, however what we find is that these ‘friendships‘ tend to be exclusive of people who do not share the same interests or personality traits.
  • We gossip about those who are different from ourselves and those within our cliques and foster negativity towards them.
  • Worse still, we begin to judge others who get along with those who are different from ourselves, making them guilty by association even if we would typically get along well with them.

What results is an environment which erodes productivity, promotes negativity and contradicts everything we, as South Africans, have fought so tirelessly to avoid.

What ever happened to celebrating our differences and embracing our diversity? When did humans become so simple that we could be distinguished by a singular title?

The solution

What if I told you that, with a small paradigm shift, we could eliminate these nonsensical practices? That with a change in our mindsets, we would be able to empathise with those around us, seeing their differences as strengths rather than dismissing them as inferior to ourselves.  What if the very personality traits we use to judge one another by are merely our own defences against our lack of self-confidence?

What if I told you that that shy, quiet girl – whom you think is always giving you the cold shoulder – actually admires your ability to speak your mind, but lacks the confidence to approach you because she already feels inferior?

That macho man who is always so quick to comment in ways that you might deem inappropriate? He may be so worried that if he doesn’t blurt out the first thing that comes to mind to fill the silence, it may give you a chance to see that he really worries about what you think of him.

The loud, obnoxious girl in the office? Perhaps she’s grown up defending her beliefs, her culture and her family growing up that her natural defence is offence. She’s so used to people criticising her that she’s forgotten how to be vulnerable.

On appearance – I am sure I can’t be the only one who has worn baggy, neutral clothes just to hide the few extra kilograms I’d picked up, without realising that it created the perception in people’s minds that I was a generic, boring lad with poor dress sense. (Although this may still turn out to be true)
The point I am making is that people would have jumped to that conclusion even if I weren’t generic and boring, simply because of the way I dressed.

It’s high time we dig deeper. We should be celebrating the diversity of our nation and the intricacies of each of our cultures and upbringings, not condemning each other to a life of solitude and segregation because of them.

On snap judgements

This post was partially inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. He writes about how snap judgement works both for and against us and how we all judge people and situations instantly, whether you try to or not. Highly recommended reading.

Proof that we’re better than this

Funny story: This post has been in draft form for over a year as I sort of lost the compulsion to finish it along the way. Recently, something truly beautiful has popped up on Facebook which showcases that we are so much more than our appearances. This inspired me to finish this post.

Public figure/page, Joburger, has – in a series of posts – asked people from certain races to ask people from a particular race any questions that they’ve wanted to know the answers to. The response, via Facebook comments, has been truly beautiful. People laugh together and celebrate each other’s differences/cultural quirks with little/no animosity or judgement.

More recently, Joburger has requested that people now state one thing they love about particular races. This has proven that we truly are able to respect each other and take pride in the diversity our country and our heritage as South Africans offers.

If you’ve got some free time, please check out this page. I dare you not to cackle like a hyena at some of the outrageously funny comments, and shed tears of joy as you sit in awe of how amazing our people really are.

 

South African Supporters - Showcasing SA diversity

Credit: Siphiwe Sibeko (Reuters.com)

Tl;dr – Don’t judge a book by its cover. This is not a new story. Understand that a person’s behaviour might be the best way they know how to react to conceal their own self-doubt. We are individuals and cannot be so readily categorised into society’s buckets of judgement.

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