Stereotypes Are So Freaking Common And So Freaking Dangerous

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.

Men In Black – Agent K

It’s one of the best lines in Men In Black because it’s so damn true.

I’ve told students (I’m in medicine) that patients lie – sometimes deliberately, but most often out of a lack of understanding or just ignorance. I’d be filthy rich if I had a nickel for every time a patient told me they’d never had a test they’d had the year before – or that they had a test they’d never ever had. And that, sadly, means that you can end up not trusting the people you’re talking to.

And this isn’t just a problem in medicine. It’s a problem in law enforcement, social work, or anything where you have to deal with people who aren’t at their best.

It’s well documented that those in law enforcement have a more negative few of people than the general public, as do those in social work. That’s not surprising at all – they’re literally dealing with people in extremis. Their view of the average person is highly skewed.

Put another way: When I was dating someone who was a college professor, they expressed skepticism about the attitudes my patients and my (somewhat blue-collar) co-workers shared. They were surrounded by a confirmation bubble of people who shared their views. My experiences were not strange … but they would be strange in a collegiate setting.

I’m writing this as a girlfriend is telling me that the pharmacist is treating her as if she’s stupid, and doesn’t know what her medications do. And for my girlfriend, that’s fantastically untrue. She’s very aware of the medication’s effects and side effects.

But for the average person that pharmacist sees? Yeah, maybe not.

Is this fantastically unfair and unjust? Abso-fucking-lutely.

And I have no idea how we can make it any different.

Sure, each individual can strive – as I try to – to treat people individually, to not let prior experiences color future interactions with different folks. And that’s bloody hard. I fail on a regular basis, despite being acutely aware of this effect.

I remember being a teenage punk – long hair, trench coat, and so on – acting like the most polite boy scout out there. Partially because that’s how I am, but partially because I relished the confusion on people’s faces as they saw me shatter their expectations.

Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe we should strive to crush expectations in bizarre, amusing, and harmless ways. (Hail Discordia!) Maybe we should challenge ourselves to be honest about what we know and don’t know.

What do you think?