Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one of the greatest intellectuals Nigeria has produced once gave a TED talk about the ‘’Danger of Single Story’’. She brought into limelight the need for Africa to be seen not as corrupt and war troubled people that they are but as creative, energetic and resourceful people they can be. As I watched keenly her 19minutes speech, a thought crossed my mind and that’s the fact that we as Africans do not just suffer from the resource curse or petro dollar, we are also plagued by the cancerous disease of ‘’stereotyping’’.
According to Wikipedia, a stereotype is a thought that may be adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of doing things, but that belief may or may not accurately reflect reality. We appreciate and get more comfortable with the familiar while we dread the unfamiliar. It’s more like we are biased umpires when it comes to the familiar/unfamiliar dichotomy.
‘’The Older the wiser, oh she’s an accountant so she must be very analytical ,she’s an economist, money is not going to flow from her hands easily. My husband must be TDH (tall. Dark &handsome), that’s like a cliché this days. He is above 6ft he should not waste his talent; he just has to play basketball (even if he has no interest in it).Money Is the greatest silver lining you can have in life, Get a degree and you would have it all in life, trust no one in life, life is full of fake people, all men are cheats’’. We all have heard statements like this before, while there might be some element of truth in these beliefs, I would like argue that if there’s anything we have learnt about the 21st century, it is the fact that change happens at the speed of thought. It’s on the basis I’ll like to highlight how stereotyping affects our societies.
The first consequence of stereotyping is that it leads to generalizations. The problem with this is that it blinds our eyes to see the differences we all exhibit as individuals. The fact that accountants may be analytically inclined does not mean the commercial driver transporting people is any less inclined; they only express it in different ways. The commercial driver knows exactly what route to pass to avoid traffic; he knows how much fuel would suffice to have a hitch free day at the office, he knows for every time he is on the move, money is the end result. It’s the same situation as bringing two boys into a room for observation. The first is the theatre going, club banging 20 year old playboy and the other a nerdish, pathological bookworm with his thick glasses to show as trophy .We might judge their abilities based on the models we have become accustomed to, but what you’ll discover is that they are both sending us the same message ‘’You only live once, therefore do not live like you have a thousand years’’. Recently we are starting to believe that not all adults are matured enough to bear that name tag, that’s because we have suddenly realized that sometimes the older might always be right, even Elihu in scriptures questioned the notion that the older is always wise when he made this profound statement ‘’Great men are not always wise, neither do the aged understand judgement’’.
Our habitual questions as a society must be questioned from time to time, statements like ‘’Life starts after school’’ should not filter through our schools anymore, even though it seems harmless its effects can be hazardous. Education is part of the business of life and not separate, it’s not something that starts at age 2, life is education and education is life. A woman once asked her physician when she should start training her child, the physician replied and asked how old the child was, she said ‘’2yrs’ and the physician replied ’’then you have just lost two years’’. It’s time to recognize the beauty of opposites, for the recognition of opposites is harmony and the tolerance of generality is harmful.
Secondly, the idea of stereotyping negates our drive for surprise. As much as we love to be in control of everything in our lives, we sure do love varieties and hate monotony. Many a youth complain and summarize their state with the caption ‘’I’m bored’’. We equip ourselves with all sorts of gadgets; blackberry, iPhones, laptops, iPad’s etc. as a matter of fact three wires control our lives, the laptop charger, the USB cord and an earpiece. As much as they all perform different functions, one particular function they all have in common is that they help us transcend our immediate boundaries of imagination. Therefore if we recognize the importance of spicing up our lives to get rid of boredom, the question is how come we still follow stereotypes when it comes to fundamental life decisions/emotions which are more important than our state of boredom. Our love for surprise should tell us that we can’t always settle for the compensation of comfort at the expense of the rewards of risk. The faster we re-evaluate some of our beliefs and values, the faster we recognise that life consists not of security alone but also insecurity, for a life based solely on security will lack new frontiers. Our love for surprise would teach us that life is simply a fortunate box of unexpected observations and occurrences where serendipity is king.
Thirdly, Stereotyping creates a famine of meaning in the lives of individuals and societies. In stereotyping, we belief and think in one particular way while shutting down or neglecting the possibilities of other better ways. The most amazing thing about meaningful living is that it is forged out of the many experiences and possibilities that life presents. The fact that we live in a society where armed robbers perform their operational duties on a regular basis without being checked, or the fact that helping a stranded person on the highway may lead to your doomsday has led to a lack of trust in our society. It has created people who are less trusting and fearful, children have been taught to belief that receiving gift from strangers is an open check to be kidnapped and this ideas and beliefs are passed down from generation to generation. True as these situations might be, you would agree with me that a repeated exposure to non-positive events definitely leads to overcautious and protective people. I would like to posit that while we expend our energy and efforts avoiding pain and suffering, we also miss out on the opportunities of living helpful and meaningful lives. We miss the opportunity to explore our vulnerability by helping others.
Not all stranded strangers on the highway are impending doomsday frontiers, not all gifts to children are invitations to a date with the evil genius. The more we believe in the notion that no one can be trusted or the belief that life is full of fake people, the more we make our world an unfavourable place to live. Sometimes I ask myself, are we any different from those travellers that abandoned the Samaritan man in the bible. In the words of Abraham Maslow ‘’One can choose to go back towards safety or forward towards growth’’. I would posit that if little things mean a lot then a lot must be given to little things.
In conclusion, I believe strongly that our very solution lies in a significant shift in our way of thinking; it’s called a Paradigm shift. It’s time to question the beliefs we have long taken for granted. There lies a great deal of beauty in contradictions; the night and day, wet and dry season are actually contradictions but the way they switch roles is fascinating; by 4pm it’s sunny but by 6pm it gets dark. It points to the fact that contradictions exist in harmony. Our society would be better if we embrace divergent thinking and not stereotyped beliefs. ’’The real difficulty in changing lies not in developing new ideas but in escaping from old ones’’ John Maynard.