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Are you guilty of stereotyping people?

Last updated on: June 18, 2012 09:30 IST

Are you guilty of stereotyping people?


Everyone of us is guilty of stereotyping another. Are we being too quick to jump to conclusions? Let's take a step back and take stock, says Prakash Iyer

If you've been to Mumbai, you would have noticed how most taxis on Mumbai's streets are rickety old black and yellow cars -- probably over 40 years old.

But change is in the air, and the last year has seen a sudden influx of shiny new taxis.

The old Fiats and Premiers are making way for the newer Marutis and the Hyundais. They are newer, nicer and far more comfortable to ride in.

So it's not surprising that on a recent visit to the city, I found myself seeking out the new cabs, waiting patiently till one of these new taxis came by.

As I got into a swanky new cab, I struck up a conversation with the driver. I explained how I had let go of four or five old cabs as I waited for a new one.

"Quite the contrary," he said. "Many people hesitate to get in because it's new and it looks a lot better than all those old cabs, people think we must be more expensive."

If you think about it, this happens to us all the time.

Not just with cabs, but with people too! We let our perceptions -- and our pre-conceived notions -- impact our view of the world. We don't always wait to discover the truth. We allow stereotypes in our mind to take over.

If he is a great sportsperson, he must be terrible in academics. If she is successful, she must be arrogant. If it's a nice new cab, it must be expensive."

Next time you feel that way about someone, its a good idea to pause and think of the Mumbai cabs. It might help change the way you look at other people!

Have a colleague who you think is particularly rude? And has it happened that every time you see him, you find him saying or doing something that confirms your view? Maybe you should hear the story of the woodcutter and the stolen axe.

The story goes that there once lived a woodcutter in a little town near a forest. He set out one morning to cut some firewood and as he was leaving home, he discovered that his favourite axe was missing. He searched high and low, but couldn't find it anywhere.

He looked in the shed where he usually left it, but it wasn't there. As he looked up in dismay, he saw his neighbour's son lurking around near the woodshed.

The woodcutter thought, "Aha! That boy must have stolen my axe." And as he looked at the neighbour's son, he could see that nervous, guilty look in his eyes. He noticed how the lad was avoiding eye contact and shifting uneasily from one leg to another, his hands fidgeting nervously. He could see the guilt on the boy's face. He was sure it was the neighbour's son who had stolen his axe.

Next day, as he cleared up the shed, he was surprised to see the missing axe under a pile of firewood. "Now I remember," he thought, "It's exactly where I had left it!"

Later that day, he saw his neighbour's son outside the shed. The woodcutter looked intently at the boy, scrutinising him from head to toe. How strange, he thought, somehow this boy has lost his guilty look. He looks like a nice, friendly lad.

Aha! What happened to the woodcutter happens to us all the time.

Our mind plays games with us, impacts the way we see other people. So now when you think of that colleague at work who hates you, and is out to get you, remember it's probably not true. It's just how you "feel", and everything the person does or says "feels" like she is out to get you.

Next time it happens, think of the woodcutter. And think of where you've left your axe. You'll discover that people are nice. Remember, the neighbour's son is a nice guy after all!

The author is MD, Kimberly-Clark Lever and Executive Coach and author of The Habit of Winning.

Image: Taxi cabs in Mumbai
Photographs: Rediff Archives

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