Peace, love and seeing through stereotypes.


On the morning of November 9th, I found myself searching the faces of my neighbors as they drove by. “Friend or foe?” I worried. I wondered if my sprinkler contractor was going to show up—or anyone was going to show up to work for that matter. People who rode the morning train into Manhattan described railcars so quiet you could hear an election pin drop.

I think that I, and many, many other people on both sides of the election just didn’t think that we knew the other side…that we were just too different to even coexist.

Research supports this. A recent poll published in the Times Union indicates that political prejudice is now more prevalent than racial prejudice in the United States.

So here we are all looking at the other side as “the other.”

With the holidays closing in all around me, I realized I had a problem. Not only was I massively distracted, I needed to get my head straight or there was going to be war around the dinner table.

I searched for a mental trick to get me out of this negative frame of mind. Would the old rubber band around the wrist that I snap whenever my thoughts go acid work? Probably not. I’d probably break it; furthermore, I couldn’t think of a single affirmation I could use to mantra my way to peace-of-mind.

Salvation came to me in the form of a Ted talk with Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. After a brainy explanation of the three things that have led to our society’s bitter division, he concluded with a truism that was so simple and common-sensical that I knew it would work. It goes like this:

The key to breaking a personal stereotype is personal.
If you want to smash your beliefs that “they’re all the same”, find an exception to the rule. In other words, listen to one person from the other side with the aim of understanding.

We people in advertising and marketing should be good at this. Understanding customer insights and acting upon them is perhaps the greatest trick of our trade.

So I decided to give it a try with my neighbor, Mark—one of the millions I’d previously decided I simply couldn’t and wouldn’t ever relate to. But unlike the other “others” like him on Twitter and TV, I made an effort to listen to Mark without judging whether he was right or wrong. His perspective surprised me. I have to say the experience did a great job short-circuiting my whole stereotyping machine.

It reminded me that we face this challenge all the time in marketing. It’s our job to listen for insights and to strive to achieve true understanding—not just hear the things that support our preconceived notions.

Having been in this business for however many years, I think we people in marketing are more open to seeing other people’s perspectives than just about any other group. I really do. So perhaps it’s up to us to lead the way out there by showing the world how to be a little more understanding.

Just so you know, my sprinkler guy showed up late in the afternoon on November 9th. He blew air through my pipes so they won’t explode this winter. Maybe that’s our job, too, as marketers—to just show up. In doing so, we may just prevent the world from blowing a gasket.

Wishing you peace, love and unsterotyping this holiday season,