Stereotyping…why do people do it?
Is it because we’re simply programmed to do so, to somehow help organize the world around us, or to simplify our human environment by categorizing people as we roam through clusters of strangers? We pick up on cues from physical movements, facial expressions, a tone of voice or terminology, to hair styles and clothing. Whatever the reasons for stereotyping may be, the big question is, at what point does it turn ugly?
I just finished editing a story that I shot in Costa Rica after an unexpected meeting with the Guaymi community, the country’s indigenous population, thanks to my beloved twin brother. As is always the case, I packed my gear, ventured off the beaten path, sat down with a person whose story I hadn’t yet heard, and asked, “what would you like the world to think about?” “Fighting Stereotype: One Tree at a Time” is a reflection of what I was told.
I’ve always pondered the notion of stereotyping, and have hated it since my first encounter with it. Is it because I grew up speaking to strangers, engaging them in conversation (airplanes passengers were often my prime targets as a child given their confined and involuntary proximity), or because I grew up understanding that you never really knew someone, until you got to know them? I can only assume that it’s a combination of all…
While the fundamental reason for stereotyping, as a form of instinctual human behaviour perhaps, could be supported and rationalized through a number of psychological and sociological theories, in my world, its flaws outweigh the benefits.
Let’s think for a second about the aspects that create a stereotype…
Generally speaking, they’re superficial, predominately based on physical appearances and behaviours by quick observation, and establish the degree or nature of the interaction to be had. Assuming we agree…
Ramon Watson-Bejarano, is the man I met in Costa Rica. He is a hard-working member of the Guaymi community who lives modestly in a palm leaf covered home on top of a mountain in the Conte Burica Indigenous Reserve, with his wife and daughters. His family has little money and lives off the land by practicing a form of agriculture that has very little impact on the natural environment. But while discussing an impressive case of permaculture, and the work that his community is engaged in to reforest and revive an area devastated by years of clear cutting for cattle fields, Ramon also spoke about an issue weighing heavily on his soul…
“Non-indigenous people say that we live on mountains, that we don’t work, have many children, and are just lazy because we don’t have a lot of money…they say that to our faces” he says.
As he spoke about this, one would have to be fully out of touch with human emotion not to realize that this was in fact truly painful to Ramon. Not because he couldn’t handle criticism or words that would challenge his personal pride, but because the words being spoken about his community are in fact rooted in misinformation.
Sadly, it is quite simple…and frankly, disturbing.
Is it fair to judge someone, or an entire community to make things worse, based on one’s lifestyle and degree of income? Does the fact that a community choses to live in harmony with the natural environment, without the need to accumulate the excesses of a consumer society, in any way indicate a certain human inferiority to those who live in the concrete jungles we call cities? Are the financially wealthy so-called “elite” necessarily better human beings?
Ramon is among the many people I meet who struggle with the negative and hurtful end of stereotyping, unnecessary and flawed for reasons that, for the sake of keeping this short, basically state that money does not equate wealth. Ironically, in the case of the Guaymi, much of the “lazy” stereotype against them, I am told, was born out of the fact that non-indigenous people are simply not interested in learning about the Guaymi community, their culture, and the wisdom that they posses because they live in an area that is too far from theirs thus giving them little reason to care. Yet the Guaymi are the ones who play a crucial role in preserving and reforesting an area that assures a healthy ecosystem which is based on knowledge and a profound understanding of nature that only they possess. They sweat heavily as they work to revive a devastated natural landscape with future generations and the wellbeing of the Costa Rican rainforest in mind, and by virtue thereof, that of the global ecosystem as whole.
So who is lazy? Those who are stereotyped, or those who stereotype?
Please take the time to listen..
“Fighting Stereotype: One Tree at a Time”
Country: Costa Rica
By: Maggie Padlewska / One Year One World
Music (CC): Seeing the Future by Dexter Britain / J. S. Bach Prelude in C by Kevin Macleod / Prelude No. 16 by Chris Zabriskie