The human tendency to gravitate towards ‘people like us’ is undisputed and well documented. But the scope of diversity is such that one individual could, according to the ‘two people’ logic, be several hundred people at any one time.
There are two kinds of people in this world. Apparently.
Those who like marmite, and those who don’t.
Those who favour cats, and those who opt for dogs.
Those who will embrace the opportunity to get into fancy dress, and those who simply cannot see the point of getting togged up as Captain Jack Sparrow.
Those who go camping, and those who point blank refuse.
Those who see a glass half full, and those who see a glass half empty.
You get the idea.
The list, it would seem, is endless, and though maths has never been my strong point, this sample alone suggests to me that there are many, many more than two kinds of people. In fact, the scope of diversity is such that one individual could, according to the ‘two people’ logic, be several hundred people at any one time depending on the context.
The human tendency to gravitate towards ‘people like us’ is undisputed and well documented. Social science calls it Ingroup/ Outgroup theory, human history — and trendy brand agencies — call it tribalism. It is nothing new and is not necessarily bad. We are all biased, either pro or con, on a number of issues. Sometimes this is necessary for survival — lions don’t hang out with impala for a reason – but where it becomes slippery is at the point that we allocate individuals to certain tribes/ groups based on perception rather than fact and we do so without realising it.
This is called unconscious bias and its impact was brought home to me recently when I attended an event on the subject led by international diversity expert Connie Wong. In a stroke of unintentional brilliance, Connie’s name alone gives one a sense of what unconscious bias feels like. Tell me, what picture have you formulated in your mind about Connie based solely on her name? Small, possibly quiet, Asian woman, right? Wrong. Try bold, blonde American.
It’s amazing what triggers we use to judge people. Does he have tattoos, does she wear a headscarf, are they teetotal, does she speak with a Kiwi accent? As South Africans we are perhaps more keenly aware than others of some of our biases. We hail, after all, from a country where for so long these biases formed the basis of law. Even writing this I have just realised that I have unconsciously been writing it for an audience ‘like me’, forgetting that when I say ‘us’ and ‘we’, the person reading this may not relate to me at all. But what of our less historically motivated biases — and perhaps the new ones we have gained since living in the UK?
We are all biased, either pro or con, on a number of issues. Sometimes this is necessary for survival — lions don’t hang out with impala for a reason – but where it becomes slippery is at the point that we allocate individuals to certain tribes/ groups based on perception rather than fact and we do so without realising it.
To make things even more complicated, not only are there more than two kinds of people, there are also more than two sides to every story, as Dutch Journalist Joris Luyendijk discusses in his book People like us: Misrepresenting the Middle East. It’s scary to think that media coverage is probably the sole informant behind my understanding of ‘terrorism’, ‘fundamentalism’ and various other ‘isms’ that I have no first-hand experience of. This affects what political party I vote for, which charities I support and what comments I make on Twitter. In essence, media, in many cases shapes my biases. (For an in-depth discussion on this topic, you might want to read my blog article The media wars that shape our reality)
We may never be able to answer the question ‘why can’t everyone just get on?’ and I certainly am in no position to preach, but have platform, will share – and my experience last week feels worth sharing. So go forth, be mindful, and let’s see if we can commit more than just 67 minutes once a year to making the world a nicer, more tolerant place.
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