Saturday, March 1, 2014

Stereotyping...effect of listening to a single story.

When I heard this TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I was really impressed by the way she explained the phenomena of stereotyping in very simple terms by giving very relevant examples from her own life. I wanted to write about stereotyping for a long time and this talk gave me an opportunity to discus about this issue. I remembered many instances from my own life where I had been a victim of knowing only a single story about certain people, religions or cultures and I formed my opinions about them even before completely understanding those people or places. I am sure this happens with many people, we all read about so called popular beliefs, social customs, myths and stories. All these things impress a certain image about many things in our mind and then we start giving some labels to those people and communities. We stereotype them, knowingly or unknowingly we judge them or express our opinions about them based on that stereotype which was created in our mind based on some incomplete and inaccurate information. I still remember when I was surprised to meet an atheist Muslim who used to follow many things from his religion or culture but didn't believe in god. I was surprised to see a female bus driver for first the time in US because I have never seen any women driving such a big vehicle in India. Somehow I was under the impression that women can't drive these big vehicles. There a are few more things which I can include in this list but the post is not about how many stereotypes I used to believe in but why I believed in them and how that belief was formed? All stereotypes may not be wrong but definitely they don't tell the entire truth.

As Chimammanda nicely explains in her talk, these all stereotypes or misconceptions were formed because I only knew single stories about those things. I only saw women working at home, rarely saw them stepping outside the house. I saw them doing only certain type of jobs which women were supposed to do. Therefore I never imagined that they can drive a bus or can also become a pilot. I was only told stories about fanatic Muslims and about their strong religious beliefs, I was informed that they are anti-Hindu (the religion in which I was born). I never thought that there could be an atheist or a progressive Muslim person who respects all other religions; these are the few examples from my own life to illustrate the effect of listening to single stories and believing in them. Since some of the stereotypes in which I believed turned out to be completely wrong I started questioning every stereotype I came across, and believe me, I found each of them based on wrong or incomplete information. There might be some element of truth in them but certainly they don't represent the complete truth. That's why we need to question and challenge every stereotype we come across. They create a wrong image of people, communities, or countries in many people's minds.

I have stopped believing in any stereotype long back. I question all of them, may it be about any gender, race, religion, community or country. This approach changed my outlook towards looking at things drastically. It helped me a lot to overcome my inhibitions and misconceptions. I am always interested in other side of story or want to know more than one story. I always want to do my own research to explore all angles of any topic before forming my opinion about anything that I hear, see or read. I am also willing to change those opinions as I get to know about new facts. According to me change is the only constant factor in life. When people stereotype anything then they give some permanent label to those things, attribute certain set of characteristics to them and believe that those things don't change. They start believing that there are some common qualities for that particular community or gender. Stereotyping is completely wrong, so let's stop doing this, this will definitely help making our society better and inclusive place. A place where everyone is special in their own way.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

1. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story


  1. "It's hard to see the picture when you are inside the frame," they say. So, "get out of the frame" is the message. And this video explains it beautifully. Thanks for posting this link. It's not often that I have come across such nice links recently.

    1. Glad that you liked it, there are some really wonderful talks on TED just surf through their website and you can find some which are really amazing.