One of the best, if not the best, storytellers of all time is Malcolm Gladwell. I have read all of his books. Well, sort of — I have listened to most of them on Audible, and, I have to say, there is nothing better than a great storyteller actually telling his story aloud to you. If you have never had the pleasure of reading, or listening to, one of Gladwell’s books, you should do so.
I recently finished his newest book, Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know. The book is about how, as human beings, we are not very good at interpreting or understanding other human beings — and we don’t even realize that we are bad at this. The irony is that we think we do it well, and that is when our judgment is at its worst.
The book delves into these two major “puzzles”:
- Why we often can’t identify when a stranger is lying to our face.
- Why it can be harder to make sense of a stranger after meeting them face-to-face than it would be if you had never met them at all.
Malcolm takes readers through various true stories to demonstrate where and why we blow it when talking to strangers. One of the fascinating stories is when Amanda Knox was wrongly convicted for the murder of her roommate and spent 4 years in prison before being released, only to spend 4 more years proving her innocence. Why was she convicted? It comes down to her lack of “visible” emotions. Because she is not one to show her emotions on the outside, law enforcement and the justice system convicted her of the crime, even though there was overwhelming evidence proving that she couldn’t have been the murderer. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want juries deciding the outcome of cases based on if a person shows “enough emotion.” That hardly seems like the intended use of the justice system. But, like Gladwell points out throughout the book, those in the justice system seemed to think they had Knox all figured out based on their assumptions.
Without spoiling too much for you, it comes down to making incorrect assumptions. Gladwell narrows this down to three bad habits people have when evaluating others:
- People default to believing what others say as truth;
- People assume that others are being transparent;
- People make excuses for others’ behavior based on their personal histories and upbringings.
Hopefully, by reading this book, we can all be more aware of when we make the same assumptions in our lives.
So, be sure to pick up a copy of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, in whatever format you prefer to engage with writing. I guarantee you’ll feel smarter!