Why Do We Seek To Define Others Superficially?

Written by on February 12, 2013 in Lifestyle - No comments | Print this page

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nerdy-guyFor as far back as anyone can remember people have judged other people against themselves, people they know and the wider world around them.

In order for this to be done effectively there has to be a universal understanding of what constitutes “normal”. Often referred to as the ‘norm’, this can often be seen as the aspirational ideal, where people seen to be within the norm ‘fit in’.

Culture is defined as set characteristics which are attributable to a group of people, taking into account aspects such as language, religion and, perhaps most importantly in relation to the question posed, the social habits that people exhibit within it

Therefore, it is safe to assume that the ‘norm’ is made up of whatever is the most common of these defining aspects, in turn creating a dominant culture as defined by presumptions and connotations.

For every type of culture that resides just off centre of the ‘norm’, but still displays repeated patterns of adoption by people, there are sub-cultures.

Sub-cultures Defined

Sub-cultures move in and out of fashion perpetually, with some of the most common that people will be familiar with including ‘Goths’, ‘Metalheads’, ‘Emos’, ‘Chavs’ and ‘Nerds’.

What all of these sub-cultures share in common is that they have an easily distinguishable aesthetic. Whether it’s the hoodie wearing, fake-gold blinged up Chav, with their tracks suit bottoms tucked into their socks; or the Goth dressed in heavy duty black clothing, caked in makeup, each sub-culture has a specific look that makes them easy to spot.

Whether it’s the anti-social behaviour of the Chav or the fact that Goths are seen to be morbid, death obsessed outsiders, each sub-culture carries with it a commonly held opinion relating to the personality traits of the people deemed to be a part of them.  This allows people to use appearance as mental shorthand to judge and form opinions that are lazy and superficial, based solely on sweeping generalisations.

But where does the hunger for superficial mental short-hand come from?

The categorisation for what constitutes a sub-culture is not defined by those that are part of it, but by those that reside within the norm, looking to understand all that is around them, without actually having to get to know people on an individual basis.

Therefore, applying sweeping generalisations to whole sections of the populace is born from a lazy and desperate attempt to understand the people around us, people we would otherwise have trouble understanding because they don’t fit expectations of what constitutes as the ‘norm’.

However, the majority of people only have to look to themselves to realise that people are complex, nuanced and defined by much more than what bubbles to the surface. And to bring into focus exactly what it is that makes up a person, we need much more than to provide the world with a pair of prescription glasses, but to ditch the sub-culture prefix and look for the person within.

Do you have experience of being misinterpreted because of the way you appear to others, or do you simply have something to say in agreement or disagreement in the commentary above? Share your thoughts in the comments section below….

Blogger Stevie Carpenter, explores ideas around culture and society to consider the world’s need to understand all that surrounds them, including people, categorisation and what we should consider as the ‘norm’. He writes for Valley Optics. 

Image courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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