Ali Kokot & Hayley Brooks | Lose the labels
Think Twice | Let’s dig deeper, past stereotypes when we first meet someone
October 8, 2013, 7:12 pm · Updated October 8, 2013, 11:33 pm·
Ali Kokot & Hayley Brooks
At Penn we love to expedite stale, uncomfortable introductions by quickly placing a new acquaintance into a familiar context within the first five seconds of meeting them.
Nice to meet you, Joe Shmo!
Where are you from? Are you in a frat?
It’s senior year, and we’re wondering why questions like these are still important.
Whether it’s where’d you go to high school, are you doing OCR or what do your parents do, these context questions allow us to immediately place someone inside our socially constructed world.
As seniors we know that these tags will soon evaporate just as swiftly as we created them. But as we change our surroundings, we’ll just change our set of questions: Where do you work? Where’s your apartment? Oy.
Postdoctoral research fellow Jared Piazza helped us understand some of the psychology behind our calculated social behaviors. He explained that these scripts we revert to are “shortcuts” we rely on “in the early stages of social interaction to organize [our] behavior.”
If the goal is to get to know someone, these go-to’s help us develop an initial emotional intimacy so we feel more comfortable delving beyond the scripted questions. But the script can also be used for “culling” — or funneling out the people who don’t interest us — much like the purpose of asking superficial questions in speed-dating.
You don’t like pie? Then we don’t like you.
It’s human nature to veer towards those like you and break the ice through common ground. But in these robotic, rehearsed social interactions, we’re more reaffirming our own identities than anything else. We shirk off potential friendships when someone’s resume doesn’t line up with ours. That’s stupid and a shame.
While we get that this scripting can be a useful tool sometimes, we worry about what happens once we’ve gathered initial answers. Yes, the script helps mellow social awkwardness, but we can only make moves towards genuine connection if we stray beyond the labels. We really fear that we’re not moving past the stereotyping step, which causes us to cull and disregard people for shallow, often inaccurate reasons.
When we immediately contextualize each other, we project our own experiences with that club, that sorority, that major onto that person, learning nothing about their actual character or potential awesomeness in the process. Like Piazza said, “Stereotypes can backfire when you make an inference about someone that may not be true.”
Most are surprised when they find out Ali went to an illustrious Manhattan private school because she didn’t wear makeup until sophomore year of college and is standing in a cornfield in her profile picture — an image that probably doesn’t resonate with the standard preconceived notions.
College senior and St. Elmo Club President Shaye Roseman noticed that “people don’t want to work that hard, it’s easy taxonomy … people don’t have time.” Well, let’s make some time, people!
Yes, we make ourselves vulnerable and kind of awkward when we push back and deviate from social scripts, but in the process we can break away from the superficial crap and actually get to know each other.
On the flipside, we get anxious — even threatened — when we can’t instantly box someone in. We have nothing to project onto them, no clues as to if they’re cool or any insight as to what their deal is. This forces us to actually listen critically to what someone has to say and to assess them based on their character instead of their zip code. This forces you to see someone else as they are, devoid of context.
We don’t necessarily need a new arsenal of questions but rather a new, open attitude. When we meet someone, we shouldn’t assess people right off the bat based on these initial, superficial questions — that’s gross. You’ll find that nurturing a relationship will actually reap a lot more benefits. It sounds obvious, but we tend to do this all the time subconsciously.
We’re all too cool and interesting to be restricted to the labels we’ve accumulated over time. So let’s invest in each other — actually invest — and find out what makes us tick and what we think is funny or lame or sexy. Because isn’t that more telling, titillating information anyway?
Ali Kokot and Hayley Brooks are College seniors from New York, NY and Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. respectively. You can email them at email@example.com or follow them at @haybethbrooks and @alikokot. “Think Twice” appears every other Wednesday.