Alternate Title: Regardless of how varied humanity is we still struggle not to make assumptions about strangers and apply it as a reputation
[The first theory post in the Narrative Collection. Start here.]
While it’s common, if not natural, for us to assume things about others and their lives… it can still be frustrating and unnerving.
Humanity is complicated, but our minds are programmed to find patterns and simplify things. In some ways, we’re good at it. In others… not so much. Basically, we win some and lose some.
Since we can’t know and fully understand everyone we meet, our minds and society at large make judgment calls. Sometimes we wait to “check things off a list” or reach X amount of time before we form an official opinion. Other times we write people off from the get-go. Unfortunately, everyone (both as groups and singularly) has different subtexts and factors they rely on to make their opinion.
Reputation precedes you
Do you know how competitions usually have a rubric that determines who the winner is? Well, the rules are random in this case. Some “judges” can express their reasonings, but even that can alter depending on the “contestant” or change as the competition goes on.
What this means is that our qualifications for judging people is also complicated and varied.
So, what happens?
Well, we still try and make things more simple. And one common way is for reputations (usually just stereotypes) to precede us. What I mean is that things about us become indicators of who we supposedly are, even if the person judging us never actually interacts with us. Common examples include:
- Ethnicity. [If you look like “so-and-so” then you’re aggressive and arrogant. If you’re X then you’re calm and collected. If you look like Y then you must believe A and B and practice C.]
- Gender. [In many cultures, women are traditionally expected and seen as more emotional, domestic, and submissive. And men are often more expected to be direct or tough. Some people are also offended by the idea of gender not being set in stone.]
- Career. [Just consider the things usually said and expected of doctors and engineers vs writers and artists. You can be intelligent, passionate, whimsical, helpful, or funny and be in any profession. But, which traits would you expect to “fit” with which half of those careers?]
- Fashion sense. [Do you wear pricey clothes? Do you challenge traditional aesthetics? Does your style match what’s expected of someone your age? Profession? Gender?]
If you look and/or behave a certain way then there’s often an expectation that you’re part of a pattern. And patterns (whether they are based on logic or nonsense) beget a reputation. Thus, anyone seemingly matching said pattern usually has the reputation applied to them. [Yes, this is basically how stereotypes work.]
Society expects you to…
Have you ever had an event, characteristic, or thought define you to others? Chances are, yes.
And depending on who you are, that might not seem like a terrible thing. Perhaps it’s something you even desire. The child who dreams of growing up to be a movie star or an astronaut and succeeds might want their career to be what everyone knows and remembers about them. In the same way, someone who goes through adversities because of a specific part of who they are may want that part to be highlighted as a “regardless of X, I am human and I can achieve great things.”
It’s understandable that someone might want one thing to define their life’s reputation and narrative. However, not everyone reaches a “point” where their weakness, quirk, or whatever becomes a highlight. And regardless of perseverance, not everyone will get to (or even wants to) redefine what their identity means to others.
And it may be nice to say, “but, that’s alright. You just need to get to that stage in your life where other’s opinions don’t matter.” But, the truth of the matter is other people’s opinions do matter.
The last time someone did something nice for you… it was probably because they like you and/or thought you needed it.
When you don’t get the job you applied for… it’s probably because they thought someone else would perform better or was more likable.
People’s opinions influence how they respond to you. And their actions and thoughts are like waves rippling through the world, changing your life.
Because that’s how life works. We all share reality, so everyone’s opinions hold some level of sway. And when society at large holds a certain opinion then it can especially benefit or hinder you.
Of course, with all the possibilities out there, life has many narratives. But, because we’re limited to knowing only ours and the ones we’re exposed to, we still miss out on many. Yet, we make assumptions regardless and expect people to match up to them.
And because we’re all sharing reality together, those narratives, especially ones widely known and accepted can impact our lives greatly.
[For the record, if you can effectively learn to focus on what you can do and quiet down the voice telling you what others think… good job. But, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s a perfect solution for everyone. Or that people who can’t are lesser or immature. That’s not how the world works. We’re not all following the same plan or mastering the same exact skills in the same exact way.]