Usually they’re making my blood boil: Prejudices. But I have given some thought to the question why some of them stick around for so long. This is what I found out.
There actually is a use to prejudices of any kind. To a certain degree we all operate on them, using experiences to judge new situations. That’s a prejudice, because we’re judging a situation not based on the situation itself, but based on other situations we perceive as being similar.
Human life doesn’t work without prejudices, it seems. We need to rely on things being just like other things in order to get on with our lives. The world is just too difficult and complex to be faced without the aid and protection a prejudice can give.
I usually try to avoid acting on them, especially if it’s the kind of prejudice that’s solely based on somebody’s look. As I’m overweight, I know how it is to be merely judge by the shape of your body (or the colour of your hair or any other obvious physical attribute). I try not to do that when I’m face with people I’ve never met before. Some days I don’t manage it, sometimes I judge someone by his or her looks. But every time I do it - and realize it - I try to do better next time.
On the other hand, I’m sometimes a bit over-carful when it comes to prejudices people could have about me. For instance, I still have a problem with eating in public (like picking up a snack on the street while travelling). I always get the feeling that people think “typical, fat already and always eating”, even though the sandwich I just bought might very well be the first thing I’m eating since breakfast seven or eight hours ago. Maybe that’s just in my mind - I’m not a mind-reader, after all -, but it makes long trips a bit more difficult than they would be otherwise.
I try not to stand out in a crowd too much, either, but keep somewhere in the background (which has led to one of my colleagues remarking that webmasters normally look a bit more freaky than me - although those I’ve met during the seminars surely didn’t look much different than I do). I could, theoretically, dye my hair green (or red or blue), put on a pound of make-up and wear tight clothes - but I would feel dreadful then. I don’t like using much make-up and I don’t like figure-hugging clothes (more than enough figure to hug on me, anyway). I could live with green hair, though, but I’m not spending 100 Euros merely to look freaky. On the whole, I like to watch, not to be watched.
And my colleagues idea about how webmasters should look is a prejudice, too. My personal guess is that his acquaintances probably work in companies where people look freaky (like fashion companies, advertisement companies and so on) and do not look freaky because they’re webmasters, but because they work in a surrounding in which ‘looking freaky’ is the norm. (In that case, looking normal would be freaky, sort of.) Or maybe they just like looking freaky. After all, my colleague is 21 and I guess most of his acquaintances are the same age. At 21 I didn’t look that invisible and normal, either. (Though I didn’t have green hair then, that was only fashionable for punks when I was 21 and I wasn’t one.)
There’s loads of prejudices around. There’s loads of ways to judge someone without knowing that person. Where the person comes from and how the person looks are the most common ways. We perceive someone as less intelligent just because he or she is from a certain country. We think someone is easily fooled just because he or she has a certain hair colour. That’s a trap, most of the time, but it works out every now and then. Sometimes someone from a certain country is a bit slow (there’s stupid people around everywhere). Sometimes a blonde girl is naïve enough to be easily fooled.
Every time it doesn’t work out, we forget about it. But when it works out, we remember. That’s why the prejudices continue to work. That’s why they stay alive.