Beyond Stereotypes

Every now and then a lightning bolt of an idea strikes. This one came by hearing one word. The word seemed to be the answer to nearly everything. Absolutely everything that I had considered about the problems of all mankind, and possibly the universe, were wrapped up in the consideration of this one word. Perhaps I’m overstating this. I didn’t see a burning bush. No apple fell from a tree. I didn’t go blind from a flashing light, and I didn’t hear the audible voice of God. This idea was bigger than table tennis, and applicable as well. As odd as it may seem, the word is stereotype. 

The definition of stereotype is – A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. Imagine a world with no stereotypes. Try to go a day without stereotyping, or take note of all the examples you hear in a twenty four hour period. I’m fully aware of the stereotypes used to describe table tennis players. Bookish introverts, that may very well be Asian, can be found in the table tennis world. That hardly describes all the players I know. As recently as last week I witnessed two league players nearly come to blows over a ball that rolled into their court. Neither seemed to be fitting the image of the stereotypical table tennis player. 

Wherever stereotyping is happening, the word hypocrite often appears. The worst of all insults is to be called a hypocrite. Simply say this person, or these people are hypocrites, and you have nicely pigeonholed a person, or a complete group of people into a nice irredeemable group. I don’t get too worked up about being stereotyped as a hypocrite. It’s probably the one stereotype that fits everybody. 

To me, the opposite of stereotyping is open mindedness. Some table tennis players choose not to look at their opponents ratings at tournaments. By not having a preconceived idea about the skill level of an opponent, it’s possible to approach a match without overconfidence, or fear. Stereotyping involves generalizations and oversimplification. People are not simple creatures. Table tennis is not a simple game. All the great answers in life begin with questioning conventional wisdom. All the really great breakthroughs come from questioning ones own wisdom. Stereotyping gets in the way of progress. Throw out the usual stereotypes, and you’ll find that exceptions are the norm.

My apologies if you expected to read this blog and learn something about table tennis technique. I spend a lot of time thinking about table tennis, but as a writer, I have to find inspiration where I can. Being stereotyped hurts. Recently I’ve been negatively stereotyped from people who I know mean well, some of whom are table tennis players. I admit it. I’m old. I’m white. I’m a Christian. I’m a man. I live in the southern part of the United States. I worked a blue collar job for most of my life. Exactly half of my friends and family would be disappointed, if not shocked, to know how I vote. Hopefully you won’t stereotype me, or any of the groups I am a member of. I’m doing my best to notice and avoid stereotyping in my own life. Why do I think this word and all it’s implications are so important? Stereotyping leads to bigotry, and bigotry is just stereotyping gone wild.  

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