David Krueger MD
The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.
They make one story become the only story.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently spoke to a university audience about her book. A student told her it was a shame that Nigerian men were physical abusers like the father character in her novel. She responded by telling him she had just read a novel called American Psycho and it was a shame that young Americans were serial murderers.
She could give this clever, facetious response because she had more than a single story of America.
If all facts or characteristics are compressed into one story, the process can create racism and prejudice, a stereotypy both incomplete and inaccurate. A single story becomes the Procrustean bed onto which all data are configured to fit. Consider the limitations of having a single story of anything. It creates the illusion that it is the only story, rigidifying perception into a finite container. Multiple stories can empower and humanize.
Research on prejudice has centered more on gender and racial bias. There is less research about class, disability-related, and age-related bias. Even less on the bias of the accompaniments of significant success, including wealth, fame, power, and influence.
Holding onto stereotypes provides an illusion of certainty, with a closure of inquiry. Then, confirmation bias brings the satisfaction of effectiveness. Unintended and unexamined bias generate behavior in those who want to act in one way, but, in fact, act another. Conscious, endorsed beliefs can exist alongside stereotypes that are the opposite.
Ample evidence shows that challenging a strongly held belief has little to do with facts, even with logic. Our minds are not designed to be changed by evidence and argument. Ideas will be considered much more readily when there is emotional, persuasive storytelling, and when we can identify with the storyteller.
We consciously and unconsciously draw upon our default models to perceive, process, and decide.
We may renunciate prejudice, but still fall into patterns of mind that are automatic, without intent.
Since our brains are wired for stories, we can reflect on our own biased reactions that may be so habitual they go unnoticed. To recognize that we are the authors of our own stories, writing each aspect of the script. To know that each moment we create whatever we think, feel, and experience. To understand the beliefs we have chosen to guide that story of creation. To examine the challenges we face. To reframe problems into possibilities. To have mindful awareness. To plan the next chapter. To move beyond a single story to our own unique narrative.
Excerpted from Engaging the Ineffable: Toward Mindfulness and Meaning by David Krueger (Paragon House) https://amzn.to/2EgRLLc