Stereotypes…Myth or Reality?

22 Oct

Knowingly or Unknowingly, I do tend to stereotype certain behavioral traits with a person’s ethnicity, especially Indians. May be, my bias is an outcome of the number of times I have been correct. For example, if I see a really slow driver on the road, I decide that it should be a chinese female or an indian female. The only time when I have been deceived is when I see a old man/lady drive the car. If I see a car in a non-parking space/corner with a hazard light blinking, I conclude that it must be an Indian guy. For some reason, I believe Indians think that hazard light is a panacea for any parking irregularities. If one asks, “Isnt it absolutely crazy to park your car in this weird spot which is dangerous to oncoming traffic?…”, the answer would be, “Dont you see, I have my hazard lights on.. I am untouchable now…I can park anywhere now..”. These generalizations don’t stop here. It goes all the way to Indian colleagues, Indian Managers, Indian CEOs so on and so forth. You may all be wondering at this point. Dude, you are an Indian too.. I know. But, I do try to correct myself from the common criticisms if it makes sense to me. Though I am not perfect, it still cringes to see people whose definition of being perfect is imperfect.

I recently read an interview from one of the freebie indian magazine. This guy (Raghunathan) has written a book called “Games Indians Play”. It is an elaborate interview. But, it centers around 2 major points. (i) Indians have a mentality to look for short-term gains even if it means that they are forfeiting long term profits (ii) Indians are not self-regulated and the actual regulation (in India) is not strict enough to impose self-regulation. In other words, the laws in India are not strong enough that people have little/no willingness to follow the system (his analysis is based on games theory, so mad-max, you will certainly be interested to read this book). I do agree with both of his observations. While many talk in great lengths about how good democracy is. The way democracy has unfolded in India is pitiable. Common good for everyone is a topic that is completely forgotten.

My theory is that, Indians are very aggressive. As Indians, especially from the lower to middle class families, daily life revolves around fighting for meager resources. Whether it be getting a ticket in a cinema theater or getting a seat in a bus to getting an engineering seat. It is always about how aggressive you are to survive the odds of being successful. As a result, we rarely trust anyone. We rarely accept or praise someone since we think that it represents weakness. We tend to be more selfish about our personal lives and end up optimizing resources for ourselves and seldom care about how it impacts the society. Western culture is the entire opposite of what we experience(d). The fundamental reason being, everybody believes in the system, which works. Also, they hope that, by being good at micro level, the macro level outcome will turn out to be good. I am sure that there will be exceptions, but then, exceptions are just exceptions and not the norm. I can continue my rant on and on. But the fact remains the same.I can only hope that the future generation will be better.


8 responses to “Stereotypes…Myth or Reality?

  1. Saumya

    October 23, 2007 at 4:46 pm

    I have to agree with you on some levels and disagree with you on several levels.

    As Indians, we are a little lax with road rules, trust is a little low – but which individual has completely escaped from his past?

    When it comes to the hordes of other things you mention – they are there in every society. You notice them more in Indians, because you identify with our way of thinking. Russians would notice something that is there in fellow Russians more, because they know the thought process of Russians in general. Just look at all the jokes made about the Scottish by the Scots in Brit?

    You say we are selfish – and the west is not. We may be selfish, but that does not mean the Westeners aren’t. They are individualistic and selfish – for us there is a unit called family, and we are selfish for the family, aren’t these people more individualistic than the rest?

    The way the system has evolved is what determines whether something works or not. India has the disadvantage of population and poverty thus making the case for short-term gains important. Every individual looks for short-term gains – just step into any mall for proof. Why does every single store boast of sales and discounts? Because everybody wants to feel like they got a good bargain.

    The Westerners got times going good for them now. We have to look back at History – there are ups and downs in every land. US is not poor or disadvantaged in anyway. We have to see how people behave when the times are tough not when they are good to see what the fibre of the society really is.

  2. Manohar

    October 23, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    @mindframes: another point to consider is, what happens when the playing field is levelled? We had a sample of that during the recent Katrina disaster… shortage of resources, overcrowding, hunger and desperation. What was the outcome? Violence, plunder and pillage.

    So I’m not sure western society is any different when tossed into desperate circumstances.

  3. Manohar

    October 23, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    sorry- submitted before finishing….

    On the other hand a Society that I personally think is worth emulating (at least in some levels) is Japan. End of world war-II, nuclear fallout… rebound in 25 years.

  4. Mindframes

    October 23, 2007 at 6:12 pm

    @saumya & mano: I think we should stop rationalizing about the reasons why Indians have bad qualities. In the bigger scheme of things, I think people here in US are certainly well mannered than Indians. When I say US people, I am talking about street dwellers to CEOs. I dont think economic level is the criterion. Ofcourse, there are certainly exceptions. But, I speak for majority.

    When it comes to selfishness, my point is not that westerners are not selfish… But, their selfishness manifests in ways that bring value to community as well. That, is the fundamental difference. Just take a look at charity levels… Indians are really far behind and have a lot to learn from.

    When it comes to system, I think there are no perfect systems. But, what you learn out of mistakes is the key. With so many calamities in India, I dont see any sense of learning from past mistakes. People take control of situations, not the system and that is the biggest problem… If you read about all the preventive measures that the US is taking to stop katrina like situations, it speaks a lot about system… Think about flooding in Bombay…What did our system do? How did they respond? Did nothing…

    Also, I think family values and culture are a lot inflated than what they really are. As I’ve probably said before, personally, I think friendships and other such personal values are more important and useful than family values which, at many times, is something that everyone is forced to adjust and be flexible with… But then, that’s just me…:)

  5. Manohar

    October 23, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    @mindframes: Don’t get me wrong, I definitely see your point- worth considering. But I was just in the back of mind playing the devil, by considering if the two societies are comparable at some level. Which is why I brought up Japan.


  6. Mindframes

    October 23, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    @mano: point well taken… In reality, I am not a big fan of criticizing India/Indians… But, when research points to new dimensions of analysing situations, it is difficult to pass… If this blog had members from other backgrounds, I think my outbursts will certainly be less…:)

  7. bumblebee

    October 28, 2007 at 1:15 am

    The portion of your writing where you mention that your bias is driven by the number of times you have been correct caught my attention. Isn’t it possible that you tend to better remember the number of times you are correct than the number of times you are wrong? Perhaps it is 50-50, but your mind is giving yourself the benefit of doubt?

  8. Mindframes

    October 28, 2007 at 5:55 am

    @bumblebee: I do suffer from cognitive dissonance if that’s what you are implying…;)


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