For us to dig deeper
Recently while in the US I had an unusual exchange with someone. I was in a meeting with a financial analyst, Eric, and in the middle of a conversation about tax returns and the IRS he paused and said:
“So, the kids in Pakistan are like the kids here, right?”
I was taken aback. I didn’t quite know what to make of his comment/question. I asked him to elaborate. He hesitated and said:
“I mean kids are kids everywhere, right?”
I told him that the Pakistani youth came in all shapes, sizes, political affiliations and bad musical tastes. He mulled that over and responded:
“I thought they would be like everyone else. I mean people are the same everywhere.”
It took me some time to understand what Eric had been trying to figure out. It was my own notion that an upper middle class westerner would surely not be taken in by the media images of Pakistan splashed around which had stymied my understanding of his query.
Eric had been trying to sort out how it was possible that a country was represented by a monolithic group of people. It made no sense to him, yet the images on the television and in print ran counter to his own intuition and experience of having travelled outside the United States.
We might be glib about the stereotypes that the media perpetuates. They, however, do exist. As people working in print or television we have a fantastic opportunity to battle those images and present narratives that are complex, nuanced and subtle.
While the images and voices presented in the US did not make sense to Eric and he attempted to question the opinions he was beginning to form, many others do not adopt this method. Most of us take the stories given to us wholesale and do not examine or investigate what is behind them.
Much as people in other parts of the world are trying to figure Pakistan and its people out right now and dig deeper, it is also important for us to sift through images we produce about ourselves and about others.