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Setting Ourselves up to be Stereotyped and Labeled

Updated on May 4, 2015
As in life, internet arguments sometimes take on extremes.  We are often baffled by different opinions given by people we identify with.
As in life, internet arguments sometimes take on extremes. We are often baffled by different opinions given by people we identify with. | Source

Important Quotes About Stereotypes

"I encourage students to pursue an idea far enough so they can see what the cliches and stereotypes are. Only then do they begin to hit pay dirt."

Robert Morgan, American Poet

"In a lot of films, they're showing more complete, developed characters of diverse ethnic backgrounds. The larger concern is to be able to tastefully explore the stereotypes, and still move past them to see the core of people."

Forest Whitaker, American actor, director, and producer

"Yeah, I had gay friends. The first thing I realized was that everybody's different, and it becomes obvious that all of the gay stereotypes are ridiculous."

Bruce Springsteen, American musician

Arguing about Faith on the Internet

“It doesn’t matter where we’re from, as long as we’re all the same religion.”

Peter Griffin, Family Guy (20th Television)

An intriguing we see people stereotype themselves is when someone declares their beliefs (or unbeliefs) on a general internet discussion forum. Or worse yet, some declare nothing but post scripture or prophecy.

It's like waiting for the mail each day; you know it's going to come - the tsunami of skepticism, ridicule, and furious debate.

The person who made the original post, if they haven't experienced this yet, is often left dazed and hurt, thinking those that replied indignantly have some sort of personal issue with them.

They haven't learned that by declaring their allegiance to one ideal or another that they've labeled themselves.

People are generally leery of anyone who is blatantly trying to sell them something. This includes religion. The people who reply negatively to someone proclaiming they are a Christian on an online forum probably do so because they've been exposed to other Christians who have attempted to do what they perceive their religion orders them to do - recruit more followers.

It's far better to get into a religion discussion topic with an open mind. Sharing philosophical beliefs, whether religious in nature or not, is the way we learn more about ourselves and more about the wider spectrum of religion and philosophy. A Christian might be fascinated with and want to learn more about Shintoism, for example. Does this make them a bad Christian? Hardly. It makes them a curious and possibly wise human being.

There are plenty of Christians that will tell you that the more they learned about other religions in the world, the more they learned about themselves and their own Christian beliefs. It doesn't mean they are planning to convert to another religion, but because they are labeled Christian, their Christian group may persecute them for stepping outside their belief system. The person would probably be inclined to secret away their interest in other religions, especially in a setting like an online forum where there are other Christians watching.

The same can be said of the Muslim who agrees with an Atheist's statement. Other Muslims and Christians would be quick to pounce on that poor soul, simply because the acquiescing person is not playing by the perceived rules of belief.

Stereotypes in America

The collective wisdom of the people of the United States has decided to give everyone a label. The poor, the rich, the blacks, the whites, the conservatives, and the liberals are all examples of labels given to people.

If you think abortion is wrong, you must be a conservative. If you think gays should be allowed the same marital rights as heterosexuals, you’re a liberal. If your friends are mostly people from other cultures, you’re a sellout. If you take pride in your race, you’re a racist.

Everybody fits into some category, whether they agree with the label or not. The problem with this is that every human being has unique and complex thoughts and emotions.

You know why you see politicians stammer sometimes when asked a question by a reporter? It’s because they had to stop themselves saying what they’d planned to say because what they’d planned to say would go against their label. If the politician got voted in as a Democrat, he or she had better be very careful about saying something conservative lest they be labeled a sellout.

What this does is urge people to speak in rehearsed tones. It’s safer to develop a stock answer to philosophical questions so our friends don’t get the wrong idea about us.

A conservative who sees no reason why gay marriage should be illegal will carefully avoid debating that subject publicly. They’re afraid they’ll get the liberal label. A person whose co-workers consider him or her liberal would be shocked to hear that person say they think religion should be taught in schools. They’d think that person must be unsettled to harbor such outrageous and conflicting philosophies.

The problem with all this is that you can’t categorize a human being. We’re way too complex; our thoughts and emotions are ever-changing as we age and learn more. Of course, that assumes the person has not stopped their willingness to consider other opinions and keep an open mind.

Everyone person is different.  Most of us believe that statement, yet still many of us are baffled when someone from our perceived group exhibits behavior or promotes ideas different from our own.
Everyone person is different. Most of us believe that statement, yet still many of us are baffled when someone from our perceived group exhibits behavior or promotes ideas different from our own. | Source

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Breaking Free from Labels and Thinking for Ourselves

The most tragic aspect of being labeled is that it causes people to lock away their ability to think freely and form their own opinions. Stock answers are easily memorized; so much so that people are ready to debate their ideals without considering what an opposite opinion is saying.

The biggest labels of all, and these apply to all mankind, are the beliefs, or lack of, that each person has. You’re a Sunni Muslim; you’re a Fundamentalist Christian; you’re an Atheist or an Orthodox Jew. Get one of these labels attached to yourself and now you’ve acquired some major expectations from the people who've been labeled the same. Believing in God, which you’d think would rally people with the same belief, is actually more likely to get you another, more precise label.

It’s not a new concept, thinking for ourselves, but it’s one we all need to remember. In the Internet Age, everything is categorized. It makes it easier to roam around the virtual world and find what we're looking for. However, we must not let the world, our country, or anyone categorize us. We are human beings, all the same, yet all different.

No one can be described with any combination of labels. They simply cannot encompass our complexity, nor our ability to reason.


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    • Jason Marovich profile image

      Jason Marovich 4 years ago from United States

      Wow, thanks for the insightful comment, Sanctuary. Often behavior of persons outside perceived groups is influenced by those perceptions. You make a good point that some will use those views as excuses when faced with a problem to solve, like your cashier.

      I think your last sentence sums our perceptions of each other up nicely and it's the reason why I'm in favor of communities where we all don't look the same, sound the same, or think the same. The more time we spend with others outside our perceived group, the more we learn about each other and the more tolerant we become of one another.

    • profile image

      Sanctuary 4 years ago

      It's a common thing to stereo type yourself. Just as common is the fact that most stereo types are not one ethnic group. The gang banger fad included every group I know and yes dressing like one and claiming to be one usually stereo types you as one. The complaint is being called one by someone who is not one. Just as common is to claim you our not something but are doing exactly the things that brand you. Claiming not to be a bigot but being one any way. Sometimes I wonder if they even know that they are hypocrites'. Most of us have probably been somewhere and treated differently by people who complain about this all day. I had a cashier who considered my problem to be racist when I really had a normal problem and picked the wrong person to bring it to. I had to wonder if she dealt with these problems a lot or was this some kind of excuse to not help me. Reasonable person standards is the truth test but observing people in a group of stereo type supporters often tells us where they get it from. Basically if you our not one of them you must be stereo typing them. Most of the time I never think about it and outside of the group people most people act like anyone else.

    • Jason Marovich profile image

      Jason Marovich 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks, algarveview. Mostly people label other groups due to their exposure to that sort of behavior growing up. When we learn, which I think we are as time goes by, to accept each person individually, we'll finally be one human race. We don't all have to look the same for that to be what we become.

      Melis Ann - thanks so much for stopping by and reading. The best thing about individuals is you can never guess what they'll do next. It makes for a more exciting existence.

    • Melis Ann profile image

      Melis Ann 5 years ago from Mom On A Health Hunt

      Jason ~ a great discussion topic here. The joy in getting to know people is that they are all individuals! We need less labeling, more acceptance.

    • algarveview profile image

      Joana e Bruno 5 years ago from Algarve, Portugal

      Hi, Jason, well, it's not just in America, it's everywhere really... You've made great points and I think labels have a lot to do with fear and trying to make some sense out of the world, most people feel the need to label so that they can easily understand the world and know where danger is (??)... It's a pity really and you are right, labelling limits us, unfortunatelly... Thanks for SHARING.

    • Jason Marovich profile image

      Jason Marovich 6 years ago from United States

      Me too, PHILLYDREAMER. I reserve the right to be an individual and to change my beliefs and ideals as I see fit, and not because I need to fit into any group. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • PHILLYDREAMER profile image

      Jose Velasquez 6 years ago from Lodi, New Jersey

      What you have just described here is what irks me the most about people. Why does anyone need a label? I don't believe we were put on this earth so we could kill each other over stupid ideals. I myself try not to be labeled as anything. I'd rather be invisible than to seen in the wrong way.

    • Jason Marovich profile image

      Jason Marovich 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Mr. Smith. We label ourselves all the time, of course, if we join with any group. Yet, there are no combination of labels that can encapsulate a person's inner being or philosophies. For example, dismissing someone as 'another Tom Cruise case' because they follow Scientology is absurd.

    • Mr. Smith profile image

      Mr. Smith 6 years ago from California

      Personally, I like being labeled. It shows people are interested. God labels, too. It's up to me which label I pin on, and which I discount. Cool hub, and great comments!

    • Jason Marovich profile image

      Jason Marovich 6 years ago from United States

      "Do you think I'd know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist?"

      This is a great line from Goodwill Hunting (Castle Rock, 1987), where Robin Williams's character is discussing the absurdity of labeling with Matt Damon's younger character. Damon's character had been in an orphanage.

      Thanks for stopping by, The Finance Hub, and welcome to HubPages.

    • Jason Marovich profile image

      Jason Marovich 6 years ago from United States

      I agree, tammyswallow, a danger of labels is the fear it causes in people to think outside their group, for fear of ridicule. If I stick only to what I know and keep my thoughts within bounds set by groups, I've let my philosophical nature become stagnant. Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it.

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Labels are dangerous things. If they are religious labels, than people shouldn't be ashamed of them or keep them hidden. But, it does lead to the labelee as being dismissed or ridiculed. It is sad that our nation has come to this. Most "christians" like me are open minded, have a sense of humor, and have great thoughts about things. It is a shame that people have preconcieved notions on what that means. Great hub.

    • Jason Marovich profile image

      Jason Marovich 6 years ago from United States

      Thanks, Ed Michaels. I think most of us have seen society develop a propensity to not only make the labels meaningful, but to bash opposite groups over the head with them. Exclusion of groups in which unwilling people have been herded into is a heart-breaking concept. I cringe when I see someone's opinion or voice discounted for any reason.

    • Ed Michaels profile image

      Ed Michaels 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      The point at which I encounter difficulty is the point at which we place content in a label. Labels are conveniences that allow us to avoid dealing with a person, or a thing; they are time-savers. Once we place content in the category, however, once we grant the label a value, we are in dangerous territory. And it doesn't matter what that content is--whether it is positive or negative content. The fact that we have made the label meaningful means that the content of that label can now be appropriated and manipulated to target and de-humanize those who bear the label.

      Great hub.

    • Jason Marovich profile image

      Jason Marovich 6 years ago from United States

      Most of us have experienced that uncomfortable moment where we're going along with what someone is saying, and we don't really agree with it. All to be accepted by the group we belong to. Thanks for reading and commenting, gmwilliams.

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 6 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      You have made some excellent points. Many people are quite myopic and insular in their stance regarding other people. It is called stereotyping. Stereotyping usually reduces people to one component i.e. if a person is of a said group, he/she is "supposed" to be the "role" of the designated said group. However, most evolved and enlightened people realize that each person has several components to her/him and this makes her/him human. Great and excellent hub.