“A Modernite ?, you guys are real snobs …….”
This is often the first response I get when I mention my School … Modern School. Immediate and automatic, pre-conceived notions lead to judgment. And after that, all that I may say is dismissed as chatter.
This type of reaction got me thinking about how we start judging, forming opinions, and disregarding conversations without going into any depth. It could come from family, friends, professional associates, acquaintances … As educator and entertainer, Kyle Hill observes, “we tend to accept information that confirms our prior beliefs and ignore or discredit information that does not. This confirmation bias settles over our eyes like distorting spectacles for everything we look at.”
How people dress and speak, their accent, their address, their car— and, of course, who they know—determine their social standing in our eyes. A current example is streamed on Netflix—the hugely popular “Inventing Anna,” the tale about the so-called German heir. She defrauded top bankers and the crème-de-la-crème of New York society of millions of dollars. How she dressed, spoke, and bragged about who she knew fooled the shrewdest.
In India—where the significant population is brown-skinned—having a fair complexion is still considered beautiful. Matrimonial advertisements continue to ask for golden girls or boys. Candidates in job interviews get selected over their dusky counterparts. Commercials make light of directives to be inclusive and continue to push the ‘fair is beautiful’ notion. Insidiously, we are body-shamed about being dark or of a different shape or size.
Religious biases, too, are revealed in pseudo-secular narratives. Debate on religion is getting increasingly contentious. The slightest reference to any sacred text, custom, or rites leads to social branding and heated talking points. Deep divides get deeper and harder to bridge.
What does this say about us as people? Instead of regarding differences as an asset and embracing them, we are becoming more close-minded and intolerant. As the world gets closer, we as individuals and groups become more distant and unforgiving. What happened to the ideal thought of “unity in diversity”? Is “E Pluribus Unum” just an aspirational Latin motto we all want but do not live up to?
Preconceived notions: Risk for Reality: ‘There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so,’ said William Shakespeare. When we create ideas about things that matter and make decisions on the same, it could ruin someone’s career prospects or adversely impact the social or financial status or even bring down a reputed organization. So, it is essential to consider the risk associated with our preconceived notions and biases. It can be self-detrimental, and it could be devastating for others.
We all should follow what Charles F. Kettering wrote, “It’s amazing what ordinary people can do if they set out without preconceived notions.”. The world is full of amazing people, and let’s keep it that way.
Ms. Geeta Sudan is an independent financial consultant and advisor at World Intellectual Foundation