Most everyone with some sort of grip on pop culture and social norms has seen The Office and would agree that Michael Scott, manager of a fictional paper company called Dunder Mifflin, is the king of stereotyping. In almost every episode, Michael makes his culturally aware subordinates in the office feel awkward with his ignorance of what is politically correct. Meanwhile those also socially inept, half of the office staff, actually enjoy their workday. In this episode, Michael makes his staff participate in a Diversity Day in order to collectively be more aware of the feelings toward and characteristics of some commonly stereotyped groups.
While I would be pretty unhappy if someone referred to me as either a nerd or geek, I’m thinking it is better to be referred to as a geek out of the two. In the past, the two words seemed pretty interchangeable; however, in recent years the term “nerd” refers to someone with extraordinarily social impaired baggage, whereas a geek is someone who is an enthusiast when it comes to a particular topic. Though nerds may also know a lot about a particular subject, they tend to be socially awkward.
To illustrate the distinction between nerds and geeks, consider the picture below. Though funny, it is actually wrong. It should be entitled “How to Lose a Nerd in 10 Seconds” because nerds are actually particular and socially inept. Geeks are just excited about what they are interested in but not necessarily obsessive or particular in this way. I will say, some of these items below would bother anyone even if they are not classified as nerdy or geeky (quite frankly, nerds would probably have a hard time just interacting with a girl long enough to date her).
All that being said, The Geek Leader’s Handbook instructs us to treat these two groups of people as archetypes, not stereotypes. Archetyping leaves room for exceptions and categorizes people according to a spectrum with plenty of gray space. Not every nerd will be socially awkward, just like not all geeks will be socially adept. Not every geek will just be exclusively over-interested in one area. It is better to allow ourselves exceptions than to treat the two as mutually exclusive stereotypes.
Stereotyping is about black and white, either-or scenarios. This way of sorting people does not allow for outliers. Stereotyping can be more harsh and offensive towards those being classified. Throughout the book, and this class, we should remember the authors are merely archetyping geeks vs. nerds and variances are not only expected but they are welcomed. Just as illustrated within the book, men are typically taller than women but this does not mean that it is impossible for a woman to surpass a man’s height.
Even when archetyping, we must remember that people are more than their outer characteristics can tell us. Most of what makes humans interesting and unique is hidden far below the surface and is what makes us who we appear to be externally. Life is much more interesting when we take the time to know the inner workings of those surrounding us. Not only that, but understanding deep rooted thoughts behind actions helps us to treat one another with patience and love. As the author of The Geek Leader’s Handbook says,
“When we can’t see into the inner lives of people who are different from us, we tend to dismiss them. But when we get a glimpse of the inner lives of people who are different from us, we are better able to relate to their hopes, dreams, fears, and dreads and more inclined to make allowances for their differences”.