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No stereotypes - see people as individuals
( 2003-11-14 08:52) (Shanghai Star)

"Selfishness, lacking in public morality and turning a cold shoulder towards others." Those are aspects of the "two-faced hospitality" Shanghainese are supposed to display.

It is true that some people in Shanghai do behave like that, and I have also experienced such unfriendly treatment. However, I certainly cannot agree to stereotyping people as being Shanghainese, Bejingnese, Guangdongnese, or even Asians, Westerners etc. Instead, it is important to be fair and see each person as an individual.

The other day I had a lunchtime chat with some of my colleagues who originally came from other Chinese cities. At first there was just small talk about the unpleasant feeling of alienation experienced upon arriving in the city.

Later on, some mentioned that they also felt alienated and despised by Britons or Americans when they were studying in the UK or the US. The final conclusion was that people who live in well-off places usually feel superior and look down upon people who live in relatively undeveloped regions.

Despite the fact that this conclusion may have some points in its favour, it is by no means stereotyping, which is unhelpful and even harmful in our communication with people from different backgrounds. In fact, stereotypical thinking plays a more powerful role in our dealings with people from other cultures than we care to admit.

Most people probably stereotype others because they don't know the truth and it's easier to put everyone in their own little niche. Perhaps stereotypes are so persistent because they seem so useful: a sort of short cut to handle unfamiliar situations or people.

As a generalization about a group of people based upon ignorance and/or misinformation, stereotypical thinking is dangerous. It requires us to blur or eradicate distinctions between individuals and groups. As we all know, people are different. The way we look, behave, think are different.

Hence, different people from the same culture or place may react very differently to the same issue. Some may argue that environmental influences are a contributing factor in shaping people's values and people from the same place may share something in common. Nevertheless, getting information about a person from where he/she lives doesn't mean that we can make a pre-judgment by virtue of environment without fully understanding or knowing something or someone.

As a matter of fact, my experience tells me that not every person in Shanghai is "selfish, lacking in public morality and likely to turn a cold shoulder towards others". Rather, when I get to know people in Shanghai as individuals, many are very open and friendly.

Likewise, many Britons or Americans are very kind and caring. So why allow one or two bad experiences to sully our communications with others?

Finally, I'd like to finish this article with an impressive sentence from a loving friend: "Despite our distinctiveness, we are fundamentally just people, who want to be respected, loved and valued." Indeed, wherever we are from, everyone needs to see the world through the eyes of love and acceptance.

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