I arrived in Europe about 8 months ago, and almost every day I face different stereotypes. Some of them may be funny, but usually they are really offensive. Why do people have such stereotypes regarding others, and is it possible to treat strangers without any stereotypes? I will try to make out these questions below.
But first let’s take a look at what stereotypes and prejudices mean.
Stereotype is a mistaken idea or belief many people have about a thing or a group that is based upon how they look on the outside, which may be untrue or only partly true. In other words, stereotypes are a generalization about a group of people.
The purpose of stereotypes is to help us know how to interact with others. They usually help us agree on how to understand and act towards various groups of people in a consistent way.
Sometimes stereotypes can be positive, but most often they are negative. And, as a result, prejudices are born from negative ones.
And what is a prejudice? Prejudice is an idea or opinion that is not based on fact, logic or actual experience. It is usually referred to as a negative attitude, and can be based on a number of factors including sex, race, age, sexual orientation, nationality, and religion.
As we can understand, we all may have some stereotypes about other people, and mostly about a group of people whose members we have never met before, and about whom we know absolutely nothing. According to psychologist Gordon Allport, prejudices and stereotypes emerge in part as a result of normal human thinking. In order to make sense of the world around us, it is important to sort information into mental categories. "The human mind must think with the aid of categories," Allport explained.
Therefore, if we have some stereotypes about other people, it does not make us bad or uneducated persons, because this is our nature. However, it should be noted that, although they are a result of our normal thinking, we should not always follow them and treat people in accordance with the stereotypes that we have.
Every time when I face various stereotypes about the country I came from or my compatriots, I make a lot of efforts to explain and prove to people that their stereotypes are not true. But what I notice is that some people usually do not care about what I try to say, if they have some stereotypes in their head, nothing is able to change it. At first, such attitude hurt me, but now I can say that I am used to it. In any case, I should admit that some stereotypes and especially prejudices can negatively affect the lives of other people and can hurt their feelings.
So what can we do to reduce them? According to many researchers, training people to become more empathetic to members of other groups is one of the best methods that has shown considerable success. By imagining themselves in the same situation, people are able to think about how they would react and gain a greater understanding of other people's actions.
I would also like to add what I usually say to my students during my workshops in Italian schools: we need to be more open. I mean to be open to a new information, new knowledge, and a new opinion, even if it does not coincide with ours. Yes, we all have our own opinion about everything and everyone, but we should not be closed and afraid of changes. In my opinion, the best way to learn the real world without prejudices is to travel, communicate with new people from different countries, and most importantly, to have the desire to learn new things and expand your horizons.
In this case, I think European Union does a great job by providing such a wonderful programme like Erasmus plus. This programme gives young people many opportunities not only to travel, but also to live in another country and learn about a new culture and a new language. It raises awareness of the culture and traditions of people from different countries and helps to break down our stereotypes about each other. Thus, I always try to promote the Erasmus plus program among my students, and I sincerely belive that participation in such projects is the best way to open our mind and expand our horizons.