A little (trivial) knowledge…
How come we are so easily influenced by factoids about people, no matter how inconsequential and irrelevant they are?
Here’s a riddle. A man and his son go for a drive, and they are in a terrible accident, in which the father is killed. The son is seriously injured, and he is rushed to hospital, straight into the operating theatre. As the operation is about to start, the surgeon says “I cannot perform this operation — that patient is my son!” If you have not come across it before, take a moment to figure out what might explain the situation.
Did you work it out? If not, here is a short video that reveals the answer (it’s also at the bottom of the article). When we think of a person, whether it’s a surgeon, a police officer, a school head or whatever, we easily make implicit assumptions about their gender, their age, their skin colour or other features.
A genderless person with no skin colour?
It is hard not to make such attributes concrete when picturing the person behind a label — will you immediately think of a heavy metal drummer who is not white and male? We have difficulty imagining a genderless, ageless person whose skin has no colour. This inevitably shapes our world view, and quite possibly our choices, without us realizing it.
Given an attribute, we make assumptions about a person which are not necessarily justified, and that goes well beyond gender or skin colour. When I was little, a common kind of playground joke was the so-called Hollandermop, poking fun at the alleged thriftiness, stinginess even of the Dutch. What would a Dutch family with three children order in a café? A single coke with five straws. Or, hilarious for eight-year olds: how can you tell that a house is occupied by a Dutch family? The toilet paper is hanging out to dry.
Of course, the Dutch give as good as they get with their Belgen-moppen: for them the Belgians are a bit dim, like the two guys in a lorry who arrive at a bridge with a maximum height warning of 4.5 m. They get out to measure the…