We all use stereotypes. They’re shortcuts that help us easily categorize people so we don’t have to think so hard, we don’t have to evaluate new interactions over and over again based on new information. If we stereotype, then the new, rushing at us fast and complicated, can just be likened to perceptions we formed back when we identified what we thought was a similar “type.” Avoids all that thinking. In a lot of ways, it’s a survival mechanism that our ancestors probably developed to survive. If it’s coming at you with teeth and they look like the same kind of teeth that endangered you last week, think about it the same way, and run. There’s nothing wrong, and a lot right, with that. The trouble is that we often face situations not requiring split section reactions that could benefit from a little analysis.
So, the “types” we form in our minds are, at best, efficient ways for us to program how to react quicker and with less thought to the new. At their worst, they are prejudices that prevent us from letting new information in. Then they are the very opposite of useful and efficient ways to process information or to form opinions. You don’t have to go very far in today’s society to encounter people thinking in “types” and reacting to prejudices.
Let’s talk about a particular “type,” the Chamber of Commerce “type,” noted in this publication in a recent letter to the editor. The Chamber “type” was characterized as a member of a group that apparently could be counted on to act in knee-jerk conformance to some sort of herd mentality. Conformance to what is not clear: status quo, development at any cost? Neither is my experience in interacting with that particular “type.”
The Chamber “type” I know here in West Hawaii devolves down into individuals who each have their own priorities and viewpoints. They do share one aspect of a herd mentality though; it’s the herd-think that wants to make Hawaii a better place to get a job, to make a living, and to raise a family. It’s the line of thinking, that acknowledges and tries to protect the uniqueness and beauty of this place we call home and of the culture that developed with it but is not content to leave things like they are, because, in the very nature of things, they never stay that way. You can let them degrade or you can try to make them better.
The Chamber “type” I know thinks that grouping together to voice commonly held sentiments is a better way to promote change than for individual voices to strain to be heard. That combined Chamber voice is heard in conversation with the police force and social services on how to compassionately and effectively deal with the problem of homelessness that we see on our streets every day. It was heard in testimony at the capitol on how to manage the plight we’ve experienced in our economy caused by COVID. It is heard in meetings with the county on how to streamline a permitting process that can seem to throw roadblocks in the way of citizens’ efforts to make something for themselves and the community. It is heard in the news and in letters to our representatives promoting the opportunity for the astronomy industry to move into the future and to become a beacon for what Hawaii can provide as a home base for science.
I see Chamber “types” active not only in promoting our local economy and society but in protecting the environment in which it exists: in getting behind changes in sunscreen ingredients to protect our reefs, in supporting programs to control crop diseases, and in lobbying for clean energy and energy efficiency. Add support for better ocean management, sustainability, and water reclamation and development to the laundry list of “type” behaviors.
One particularly important Chamber “type” is the young, and emphasis on that demographic is seen in efforts to develop the young leaders who will take over in the not-so-distant future. It is seen in support for education, workforce development, broadband expansion, and improvement in health care, so the young and the not so young can have a better chance at healthy lives.
So, when you try to define a Chamber “type” you really have done the opposite of your intent. By getting specific about all the actions taken and the values held by your conception of what that “type” looks like, it becomes clear that a common image just won’t come into focus. The range of behaviors defies uniform characterization. Instead, there are just concerned citizens, in all the variety they come in anywhere, united behind the goal of making the best of the cards they’ve been dealt and in improving the game for us all.
Dennis Boyd is director of the West Hawaii Small Business Development Center. The Hawaii SBDC Network is funded in part through Cooperative Agreement No. SBAHQ-20-B-0037 with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the University of Hawaii at Hilo. All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.