Last week on Saint Patrick’s Day, I was running some errands in the mall. When I got to the counter to check out my purchases, the cashier asked me if I was about to head downtown (in Augusta) to celebrate St. Patty’s Day. She was just trying to be nice and make my shopping experience enjoyable so I would bring them more service down the road. What this innocent cashier did not realize is that she stereotyped me from the moment we began our conversation.
I do not dispute that there were many people around my age out on the town enjoying themselves on that night, but it is important to note that not all of us were. I am nineteen years old and a college freshman. These two minute details create a wide array of assumptions one might make of me without ever knowing anything else about me. One might guess that I enjoy drinking and partying, that I live a carefree life and take on few responsibilities. In reality, however, none of this is true.
Our society has begun to define an individual not on his or her own merit, but rather what society dictates an individual should be. For instance, society dictates that Christians, southern Christians in particular, are homophobic, gun-toting, Bible-thumping old white men. Society dictates that women ought to dress in revealing clothing, have a so-called “perfect” figure, and should be able to control men based on their looks. In both of these instances, society’s view is botched.
Stereotypes are formed either by a wide majority or a small, but loud minority. Nonetheless, stereotypes are everywhere. They impact our lives constantly. As humans we judge those around us by how they appear, or how we perceive them. No matter how hard you might try, forming your own opinions about someone you have never met is inevitable.
The old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” has become a cliché. Even so, its truth remains one of life’s most profound. When we allow ourselves to form these opinions without having any knowledge of an individual’s character, we indulge in blatant ignorance.
As society grows more and more secular, we have a moral obligation to stand against the status quo and bring an end to this reckless cycle of stereotyping. Inaction risks building generation upon generation of children who feel they have no choice but to conform to society’s mold. Individuality will be diminished and children will not be able to achieve their full potential.
When we allow stereotypes to define us, we lose sight of what makes us unique. A one-size fits all template by which one should live is an absurd idea. As a society, we must decide to break the mold and unleash our individuality. Stereotypes do not have to define us, but they will so long as we turn a blind eye to naïve judgement.