Distinguish Yourself #216 – Understand the power of stereotypes

A few days ago, I was in Austin for a business trip. I took a cab from the airport to the Driskill hotel in downtown Austin. It was a cold night anti must have rained the previous day. There was some traffic back to the city so it was a longer ride than normal. The taxi driver Oscar was very friendly and we started a conversation that went in so many directions. One of the stories that Oscar mentioned was a classic on the power ore stereotypes. Here is the story (paraphrasing him)

Before I came to Austin, I drove taxis in many cities. In one of the cities, I was mainly driving people from and to the airport. I knew that there were many routes to the airport and the one that was through the highway was not the shorter one. But that’s what most people would take. I wanted to help people save money so I would give an option to every traveler. First option was to take the highway and they would pay six or seven dollars more. Second option was to take the inside road and obviously that option would make them pay more.

Over the five years, things never changed. 99% of the people ALWAYS asked Oscar to just follow the signs and not deviate from it.

“Taxi drivers are not trustworthy” is the stereotype at play here.

Stereotypes are at play all the time in all of our lives, sometimes even without our knowledge. When stereotypes are fully at play, they become the “truth” for us. Why would it be any other way?

Next time when you “default” your opinion on something, you are probably experiencing the power of a stereotype. It is hard to escape from the stereotypes as there are so many of them. Most of them are intertwined in our cultural fabric that it’s difficult to “see” it.

Being aware of and understanding stereotypes is already a big win. You can start that process by simply starting a conversation with one or more of your friends about stereotypes. Ask them what they think of stereotypes. Ask them what stereotypes are they affected by. Now, ask them what stereotypes they think YOu are affected by.

Their responses might even surprise you if you have not thought about stereotypes lately.

Have a great day!

Photo courtesy: happyjumpfrog on Flickr