Scientists have discovered that our conscious brain is unable to handle the enormous amounts of sensory input it receives. Instead, our unconscious brain sorts and discards what it perceives as unimportant and then summarizes what it wants to keep, discarding details. This is a survival mechanism. It allows us to react quickly to a problem, say a fire in the house, rather than sorting through voluminous data about fires and extinguishers before escaping through an exit.

It is also how we gather information about people. The unfortunate result is that we can create false similarities and exaggerated differences. We oversimplify to understand. We stereotype.

When my grandpa Patrick McAllister arrived in the United States in 1899 he went looking for a job and saw signs that stated “Workers wanted – Irish need not apply.” This prejudice has been experienced by other groups including African Americans, Italians, Mexicans, Native Americans and, most recently, Muslims of varying nationalities. Prejudice is a negative result of stereotyping because it leaves out positive information about each individual, limiting our appreciation of them, and allows us to construct unfounded fears about them. Stereotyping also occurs within our own group. It is how men discriminate against women, including their wives and mothers.

The solution to this problem is to recognize people are individuals and understand our lack of real knowledge about them. We must show respect and common courtesy to everyone as dictated by The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is easy to say but difficult to remember. We get too tied up in our world and we look for a short cut to understanding. Eliminating stereotyping requires a long, determined effort but we must make it to overcome this negative tendency.

This brings us to our next issue. How can anyone even think of voting for a Democrat, or a Republican, or ___________ (insert the name of your least liked candidate here)? While stereotyping creates problems with individuals, it creates even larger problems when the stereotype is for a group.