Have you noticed how often people are blaming ‘those who are in charge’, ‘the bigwigs’, ‘the CEOs’, ‘the fat cats’ for all sorts of things? I had a few such comments on my blog in recent months, which made me think a bit more about that. Are all ‘bigwigs’ and ‘fat cats’ so bad?
Stereotyping (i.e. putting people into groups and categories) is based on a normal cognitive process: the tendency to group things together. In doing so we tend to exaggerate:
- the differences between groups
- the similarities of things in the same group
I never trusted faceless stereotypes and generalisations when people get assigned to a particular group on the basis of one characteristic or one of their identities. The group of ‘the bigwigs’, ‘the CEOs’, ‘the fat cats’ might in fact include very different people with varied life experiences, values, beliefs and views. Take, as an example, Sir Angus Tait, the founder of Tait Communications and The Tait Foundation that donated millions of dollars over the years to a variety of causes. As Michael Chick, Tait’s former CEO, said: “Angus was an immensely determined yet compassionate man, a great innovator and mentor for so many.” He might have been the ‘bigwig’ in his company but a truly admirable one.
The same in the past. Among wealthy people from the noble class there were some who cared about others and were trying very hard to push for changes in the society. In Russian history, there were Decembrists – noblemen united in an attempt to release their motherland from the chains of autocratic oppression, that was keeping Russia in poverty. There were hundreds of them, inspired by the constitutional governments of Western Europe. Members of the aristocracy, they were the first to rebel and attempt to overthrow the absolutist regime of the Tsar. However their uprising was a failure. They were condemned as criminals of the state. Five of them hanged, others incarcerated. More than a hundred sent into exile, sentenced to thirty years of hard labor in the mines of Siberia.
Decembrists’ wives followed their husbands into exile, leaving everything behind: their families, their children, their possessions, their lifestyle. One of these women – Maria Volkonskaya, the quintessence of class, a princess – had a newborn son. All she wanted to take with her was her little baby – the Tsar did not allow her even that. They were never allowed to return…
If only the Decembrists won on that cold winter day and changed the course of Russian history – then, may be, there would have been no revolution, no civil war, no Stalin, no loss of millions of lives, no floods of blood, no tears and pain… 😦
‘The bigwigs’, ‘the fat cats’ – let’s try to see real people behind all these stereotypes. Some of them might be very bad, but a few might make us pleasantly surprised. 😉