Stereotype vision

I spend a few hours every week in a public library that rents space to my Toastmasters club. Another branch of the same library hosts lectures, films screenings, and other community events. A third has a monthly concert series.

Public libraries are community hubs that provide, among other resources, research assistance, help for those new to the community, opportunities to try out items other than books, and means to learn how to use technology.

The stereotype of a library as a quiet storehouse of books persists among the general public. Just last night a friend laughed off the oddity of having a spirited conversation not three metres from the circulation desk and not being shushed for it. As someone who has been blessed by the friendship of librarians for over half their life, I know of libraries as community hubs and purveyors of a variety of public services.

The people in my life are like libraries: easy to casually put in a category despite considerable breadth and depth in what they share with their communities. Getting to know them may involve the random chance of uncovering a common interest or a long cultivation of mutual trust and respect. I cherish my friendships, close and more distant. I’m aware that seeing and treating each other as multifaceted individuals has a cognitive cost.

At some point, we all have to take the cognitive shortcut of putting people in little boxes [YouTube: Malvinia Reynolds]. The characteristics by which we put people and communities into categories has a lot to do with our backgrounds and beliefs. Whether we intend it or not, we appraise their value and make assumptions about them by the labels on the boxes we use to think of them. Those assumptions are approximations that usually go unchallenged.

My life is richer for opening up the boxes of my assumptions and examining some of the people I’ve stuck inside them. I can’t sustain millions of friends, or even thousands. I can gather insights to learn more about how accurate my cataloguing system is and work to improve my understanding of the world.

I would like to be better understood as a person by the people and organizations I interact with. It’s only fair that I meet them at least halfway. Besides, learning more about our neighbours broadens our perspectives in ways that help us work and live together.

Are you willing to commit the resources to challenge one of your assumptions today?

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