Monday, October 27, 2014

David and Goliath

I read Malcolm Gladwell's newest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, over the weekend. While I really liked his other books (Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers), I think this is my favorite one. While it is also more difficult than the others in terms of emotional content, I also think it is his most hopeful.

Like most of his books, the essential premise is that what we think we know is true, actually isn't. In this case, if we think the giants of our lives hold more power than the underdogs, we are wrong. Being the underdog carries certain advantages in itself and those advantages are not without strength. There are a lot of interesting topics in this book. Too much of a bad thing really is bad for you. Going to a very prestigious school is not always going to help you in the long wrong... and could actually hurt you. Being the underdog means you are going to have to expend more energy than those on top.

These topics alone would have made the book worth reading, but there were two others which really struck me. The first was his discussion of fear. It would seem that FDR was correct in his first inaugural address when he stated that the, "only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Having just read quite a bit about World War II and specifically the Blitz of London, I was particularly interested in his discussion as to why Londoners were able to live through the Blitz in such a stalwart manner. It would seem, according to the research that has been done, that surviving a 'remote miss' [a 'near miss', being too close to a traumatic event so that it leaves a deep impression as opposed to a 'remote miss' where you are affected but far enough removed to leave a lasting negative impression] of something you originally feared transmitted a sense of fearlessness and invulnerability instead of what we think would happen, which would be to make us more fearful. It would seem that it isn't the actual event we are afraid of, but the feelings we will have as the event unfolds. We are afraid of being afraid.

If you've ever done something that you were previously afraid of, you know this feeling. It is the idea that challenge courses are based on. You know, those ropes courses where they ask you to do terrifying things while being 30 feet off the ground? The Blitz was full of remote misses for its population (40,000 killed and 46,000 injured in a population of more than 8 million) and thus the vast majority of the population was emboldened rather than traumatized by the falling bombs. They weren't afraid of being afraid anymore. I found it very interesting.

But it is the last part of the book that is so powerful. It is the power of the underdog, the person who has been deeply injured, to forgive the injuring party. Mr. Gladwell contrasts two parents who had each lost a child to a violent attack. One parent became a crusader, constantly seeking justice, the other made the decision to forgive. The difference in the outcome of their lives and outlooks on life a great contrast. Forgiveness gives the underdog great power.

It's a good and quick read. You may not agree with all of it, but it is thought-provoking. Give it a shot.

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