Note: The following post is inspired by this imgur gallery.
A young man walks into the grocery store ahead of you. He appears to be in his mid-twenties, is tall with a slender build, and appears to be of the same race/heritage as you. He wears a pair of blue jeans that are slightly too large, but not sagging, and a gray hoodie sweatshirt that is oversized but not baggy. He proceeds to the line of carts((Or buggies for the 0.01% of my audience that speaks Pittsburghese.)), takes one and heads off into the store go to about making his purchases.
Does this man remind you of someone? What is your opinion of him based off of what little I’ve described? Have you even formed an opinion of him? Do those opinions change if his attire changes? What about his age? His race? What if I changed this person’s gender? Would that change your point of view?
There’s a good chance that you said yes to at least one of those questions in the previous paragraph. I recognize that many of my readers wouldn’t have the answers to those questions change solely based on the color of someone’s skin or their gender. But whether or not that person you see reminds you of someone from your past can have a more drastic impact on you than you might think. I don’t come at this post from a scientific standpoint. I’m not a scientist, nor will I ever claim to know the science behind something if I haven’t researched it myself from credible sources((Hi, pretty much every Republican presidential candidate since 1980!)). I only speak to this from personal experience.
Fans of the NFL are likely familiar with current Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford. Bradford is entering his fifth season in the league, as well as his first with the Eagles after being traded from the St. Louis Rams. When Bradford came into the league, many people were praising him as having the potential to be one of the greatest quarterbacks the game has seen. The Rams bought into the hype, and through his rookie year, Bradford lived up to the hype, winning the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award. To me, however, Bradford reminded me extremely strongly former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Rick Mirer. Bradford’s career has been derailed by injuries, but the similarities between Bradford and Mirer’s careers to this point has been startling. While a friend of mine (correctly) stated that Bradford’s career is looking far more like that of Tim Couch than Mirer, take a look at who the most similar quarterback career-wise to Mirer is.
Getting off of my football tangent, I’ve noticed this type of behavior out of myself — and others — in every day life as well. A few years ago, a previous employer provided me with my first opportunity to conduct interviews. For the first few interviews I did, I found myself mentally comparing the candidate across the table from me to team members on our call center team. Phrases such as “She’s a more energetic version of Christopher” or “It’s Jamie 2.0” or “Why would you come to an interview drunk, we already have Eric for that” crossed my mind on more than one occasion. In the context of an interview, this can be a beneficial technique to employ. It keeps you from falling prey to people who are great spin doctors((Linking this for lulz.)) in the interview room and allows you to take an objective approach in comparing incoming candidates with members of your team.
The downside is dehumanization of both the candidate you’re interviewing as well as the person you’re comparing them to. If the comparison you’re making is a positive one, it becomes amplified, giving the new person you’re talking to more credibility than they may actually deserve. If the comparison is negative, you may be writing off a person who is better than you think just because they remind you of someone else. This process of dehumanization is a dangerous one, as when we forget that those around us are people with problems just like you and I have, it becomes far easier to treat them as if they weren’t human. When that happens, bad things are sure to follow.
I’ve been known to find myself taking traits or mannerisms from real people I know and using them as characteristics for characters I write into books. While much of a character’s base is made up in my head, I may pull the way that character speaks from one person in my life, the way they dress from another, their political opinions from still another, and even tie in other things I see from random people I pass in my daily life. Doing so serves a bit as my way of trying not to allow myself to link actual people with other actual people. Deconstructing mannerisms and habits into a character in a book is one thing. Allowing yourself to do it to real people until everyone is a gross chimera of others you’ve known…that’s not good.