by melinda bak
It's a choice. Like a hit song, friends are singing it, work is singing it and family is replaying it.
It's on our choice media, in our house, in our car, in our ears.
So easy to sing along when it's surround-sound.
Stereo (a root word in stereo-type) means that we're hearing "it" everywhere. The message about "that situation" or "those people. " When the lyrics to that problem play in surround-sound, it get's traction in our minds. We hear the same explanation sung from every speaker. The tune is memorable, comfortable, in synch with our own voice. In stereo.
Stereo is brilliant that way.
Stereo sounds the same no matter which way you turn.
It's familiar, reassuring and resonates. Like a familiar tune stuck in our head, teh ability to sing along is a relief.
Sounds familiar, dependable, like life itself, like truth.
Must be truth.
hearing a message in stereo makes it feel true
That's what studies reveal. When it comes to the way our brains work, repetition is equated with reputation. What's repeatable feels reputable.
The more familiar a message, the more legitimate it feels to us. Our brains are at ease with familiar messages, with the tunes we know. Those are the lyrics which comfort and cajole.
Messages in stereo sound synchonous. It's why we'll turn off a station that plays another generation's unfamiliar music. Our brains resist the unknown, intentionally tune out songs, messages and people who sing unfamiliar melodies - which feel to us, onorous, disconnected, even unworthy. We intentionally turn off media that carry unfamiliar (and thus untrsutworthy, contemptable) messages.
We like it when messaging lines up; like when a movie's speech aligns with the sound. When the sound-track gets off so that the speaker's lips move ahead of our hearing the words, most of us feel aggravated enough to change the channel. We are wired to reject asynchronous messaging that's “out of synch” with our reality and to favor omnichannel messaging that meshes with our reality.
We tune into familiar people and stations because our brains equate their synchronous (stereo) sounds with trustworthiness.
The more familiar a sound, the more comforting. The more comforting and easy to hear, the more our brains tell us, "this is truth."
Of course, it doesn't follow that repetition creates truth. It's easy to recognize the repetition-fallacy when people with whom we disagree echo the "untrue" refrains heard on their favorite stations.
Types (the other root in stereo-types) allow us to quickly categorize events and people as good or bad, scary or sad, or happy-making and likable.
Think of actors who get TYPEcast; repeatedly hired to create the same kind of role. Hugh Grant is repeatedly typecast as the awkward, romantic lead. Morgan Freeman is typecast as the kind, moral compass. Jennifer Aniston is exclusively typecast as the lovelorn romantic lead. Michael Cera is typecast as the trendy but awkward geek. And, Samuel Jackson's the guy they typecast when they just need someone to stand around and look intimidatingly cool.
So, we know a TYPE when we see one. And, we have that TYPE reinforced (almost subconsciously) when we hear it in STEREO all around us.
Stereotypes are useful in that they give our brains short-cut knowledge. We don't have to engage a long reasoning process about whether or not to touch a hot stove. Experience has taught us, we'll get burned. That burn laid down a short-cut in our brain that keeps us safe. We have, if you will, a sterotype about hot stoves. But someone who has developed a stereotype about all stoves because of one bad experience, you might say, needs to re-evaluate the validity of their stereotype. For, it is possible to cook quite successfully on a stove. And not get burned.
Shortcut thinking is our natural default. Our brains are wired to take the shortest route to an answer; it's how we think efficiently (videos on how we think).
When we stop thinking about why we think the way we think, shortcut thinking can shortchange us. While stereotypes can help us avoid dangerous people, they can also lead us to classify people without really knowing them.
When shortcut thinking relies on the efficiency of "type" and the repetition of "stereo," stereotype can shut down not only possibilites for breakthrough thinking and breakthrough relationships, but opportunities to achieve breakthrough possibilities.
all stereotypes create brain-tread
Stereotypes create a path in our brain that subsequent memories will reference to interpret a new situation. All stereotypes create pathways, lay down brain-tread; but, negative stereotypes create more lasting ruts in the impressionable soil of our brains.
negative stereotypes are more difficult to alter
Because negative stories are usually told with more intense feeling and vehemence than happy stories, negative stories create a more indelible impression. Negative stories (whether gossip over coffee, an email or meme) create a more memorable experience; a rush of emotion that creates deep brain-tread that subsequent thoughts just slip into.
It's what happens after a rainstorm, when a big-wheeled truck drives down a dirt road. The tires dig in and leave a rut. When the mud dries, there are grooves in the road that our tires naturally gravitate to on the next trip down the road.
Our brains do that - create ruts on a rainy day that subsequent thoughts just fall into. This deeply rutted road is where our thoughts will gravitate to when we cease thinking about how we're thinking.
If we meet one Muslim, Jew or Christian whose difficult presence floods us with strong feelings, our brains will lay down brain-tread. And we will get a brain-rut.
Then, every time one of our friends or our favorite media says something that confirms that experience, the brain rut will get a little deeper. Stereotypical-thinking relies on brain-ruts to understand the world. Stereotypes gravitate toward the rut, following the brain-tread laid down in a storm.
Stereotypes prefer the familiarity of a rutted road.
changing a brain rut
When we risk getting to know someone who could show us something other than that rutty road - someone of another political-bent, sociological-makeup or religious conviction - who is incredibly likable, normal, not at all in keeping with a negative stereotype that we may have held, we'll have the opportunity to lay-down new brain-tread.
It's a new day. We choose to roll down the windows and go for a ride without the stereo. We dare to invest beyond type and invite a new friend, someone who can show us new roads with less ruts. We start with hello or start a conversation; we are not in synch and we are okay with that. We are taking a less traveled path, the one without familiar ruts.. The one beyond stereotype, the one unfamiliar.
It is a choice. An intentional choice.
A discomforting, asynchronous, mind-bending choice.
An unrutted, full of potential, road-shaping, world-changing choice.
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