Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Talking To Strangers ... and other "stranger" things

I am a huge Malcolm Gladwell fan.

Hoping there are those among my readers who are too. His latest book, Talking to Strangers, is truly brilliant. At the end of the day, you might still not know how to talk to strangers but you'll have a much better understanding of why it is challenging to discern the truth.

Gladwell is an engaging storyteller, and in Talking to Strangers, he tells lots of stories. He delves into the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia scandal at Penn State University, the trial of Amanda Knox in Italy, Hitler meeting Chamberlain and convincing him that war was not his priority ... even Sylvia Plath's suicide. The villains are many, ranging from Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador, whose inability to communicate with Aztec ruler Montezuma II led to Montezuma's death and the eventual end of the Aztec empire; to Fidel Castro, who planted a Cuban mole into the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, which the agency, despite troubling warning signs, failed to detect for over a decade; to Bernie Madoff, who conned his way to the top of a massive Ponzi scheme involving some of the biggest institutions on Wall Street.

I could go on and on about the rich contents in this book.

But the basic message is something we can all relate to: Our ability to communicate and truly understand who we meet and talk to every day. We are fallible. Actually more than we even realize. Gladwell presents us with case history after case history where this happens. He tells us that people default to the positive whenever there's a question about validity. In other words, when we meet someone that tells us a story, we tend to believe it. This is not a bad thing. If we were suspicious all the time, we would be pretty miserable all the time. But in the cases of Madoff, Sandusky, Hitler (in the early years) and others, the people who believed that they were honorable people were fooled for years. And these were not trusting ignorant folks that were duped.

There is also a fascinating section on human behavior and crime and suicide rates. The novelist Sylvia Plath took her own life by putting her head in the oven and turning on the gas. At the time of her death, English residents were supplied with "town gas". This was a toxic mixture of chemicals with a large amount of carbon monoxide. The suicide rate among young white women in this era that chose this method was about 45%. Obviously, this was a method of choice. Over the next ten years, England moved to natural gas which had very low toxicity and not enough to cause death. The numbers of white women who committed suicide in general decreased dramatically ... more than half ... proving not only that the change not only decreased rates but also prevented suicide rates overall and that women didn't choose other methods.

Crime rates in Kansas City dropped when police applied successful methods to remove guns and criminals from high crime neighborhoods. AND there wasn't a resurgence in other parts of the city as many thought would occur. Criminals were just like other citizens. They didn't want to move. It was too stressful!

I'll let you discover the rest. You will be amazed at how incredibly interesting this book is. Buy the audio version and you can hear actual interviews.

You'll love it! (you believe me right?)

No comments:

Talking To Strangers ... and other "stranger" things

I am a huge Malcolm Gladwell fan. Hoping there are those among my readers who are too. His latest book, Talking to Strangers , is truly...