I have traveled back and forth from New York to Lexington, Kentucky four times per year for more than 10 years. When I first went to Kentucky as a provincial northeasterner I had a general idea about what I thought Kentucky would be like. What I found out was that my pre-conceived idea was, by and large, incorrect. The people were and are and sophisticated, techno-savvy and there are great places to eat in and around the greater Lexington area. Not quite what I had imagined.
Today, when I talk to people about my trips to Kentucky they often roll their eyes and even snicker a bit. They have what they think is a general idea about what it’s like even though they’ve never been there. I am very careful now to not draw conclusions about things with which I have no experience. Of course I will have an idea or anticipation just like everyone else does, but I also want to allow myself to be surprised, while at the same time I want to be willing to challenge my own uneducated perceptions.
The same thing has been true regarding my travels to China. Before my first trip I had perceptions that in general turned out to be just plain wrong, like a country filled with morose, unhappy people living in a Socialist state or people that were unfamiliar with western customs and food that would be so unfamiliar I would not be able to eat. These perceptions like so many are built out of the limited information that is available to people – on television, in books and movies, and in the media.
It makes no sense to me to try to sum up people in places like Lexington, Kentucky or Shenzhen, China or anywhere else for that matter. Some people may fit certain generalizations but far fewer of them fit any particular category than one might imagine. And in so doing that’s how stereotypes are created.
Just because people live in a place does not mean they should be lumped together as being New Yorkers (loud and pushy), Angelinos (from Los Angeles – mellow and laid back) or Kentuckians – backward country bumpkins.
Generalizations are in my view counterproductive and even can be dangerous. We seem to want to make sense out of things by categorizing people either by where they are from, their ethnic or religious background, corporate affiliations or political views. I try very hard to take things as I see them and to not allow preconceived notions to rule my real-life experiences. It’s not always easy that’s for sure.
In general do you think this concept is worth your attention?