“Wow, your family must be loaded.”
I stood frozen in complete surprise after hearing this reply. I had just introduced myself to the girl sitting next to me in Art class by saying that I was an international student from China on my first day at a Canadian high school. In less than 30 seconds after seeing me, she had drawn this conclusion about me.
It was much later when I learned where she got this stereotype from. A portion of international Chinese students currently studying in North America represents those from the supreme upper class. Because of their substantial outgoings, many have assumed that all international students from China are able to sustain similar lifestyles–driving different Ferrari cars to school every week, attending elite balls, and dining at the most extravagant restaurants.
Yet these students do not reflect all Chinese international student populations here in North America. Many of my peers are in far less privileged financial situations. Certain families, mine included, have had to make lots of sacrifices in order to afford such an opportunity.
During the past five years that I have been studying Canada, I encountered many more situations comparable to this. I have learned that people love making assumptions about my strengths and weaknesses (e.g. “You are good at math”, “You are a bad driver”), likes and dislikes (e.g. “You like to eat dogs”), as well as financial situation based on extremely superficial characteristics, such as what I look like or where I come from. At first, I was agitated by this type of reaction. I was angry, feeling as though my identity was degraded to a stack of labels that had been forcefully pinned on me. However, as I got more accustomed to being stereotyped, I became much more immune to these wrong assumptions. I would not get hurt by these comments as easily, which enabled me to calmly analyze the reasoning behind these assumptions–where do they come from? Why do people make them?
I came up with the following answer: we currently live in a fast-paced society, where everyone wants to be able to draw rapid conclusions on everything so that more matters can be handled within a limited time frame. We have become less patient for ‘chores’ such as actually taking the time to get to know a person, which is why inaccurate labels are too quickly and eagerly pinned on people. Yet this approach does not work well with the innate human flaw of arrogance; we often overestimate our knowledge, believing that we know more than what we do. As a result, we end up making conclusions long before we are ready, and long before we have actually seen the full picture.
Is It Simply Impossible to Resist Our Urge to Judge?
We are all guilty of having this eagerness to draw quick assumptions; we are also all victims to this weakness. Some are indeed luckier than others–certain groups of people are enforcers of this weakness a lot more frequently than they are victims to it, but the truth remains that this weakness is a persistent obstacle that prevents us from getting to know each other. The key to minimizing its damage is by recognizing the limitations of our extent of knowledge. Think more about what we do not know and people we have yet to meet than what we already know and seen. Only then would we refrain from judging too quickly and take the time to learn, to think, and to grow.