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Talking to Strangers

Updated: Apr 14

4/12/20


Day 412


Malcolm Gladwell is a riveting storyteller who regularly spins a compelling web. His book, Talking to Strangers, is as captivating a piece of nonfiction literature as anything I've read.


It's not about random encounters at the grocery store, and he doesn't offer any advice on how to meet members of the opposite sex (though there is a little bit about how you shouldn't do the latter). It's much bigger than that.


It takes the mind on an adventure as he weaves through heavy, controversial, and sometimes uncomfortable situations.


His efforts to better understand the truth, the lies, the trust, and the mistrust that influence our judgments of people that we don't, and as he might argue can't truly understand are sure to cause you to reconsider how quickly you jump to conclusions about strangers.


I could have easily read all of the 350ish pages in one sitting. But that's not exactly realistic with a 14 year old, a 4 year old, a 2 year old, and a 7 months pregnant wife that I gladly share my attention with.


The basic premise of the book is how we as humans have a natural inclination to think all people are honest and how easy it is to be deceived. "We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues."


He refers to this as the "Truth Default Theory." And he doesn't try to discourage us from this. "To assume the best about another is the trait that created modern society."


Sure, this default may lead to the occasional tragedy, but abandoning it, he warns, is worse. "If you don't begin in a state of trust, you can't have meaningful encounters."


Gladwell doesn't exactly offer any solutions, just some advice: a call to think deeper and to seek to understand rather than judge. To approach strangers with caution and humility with an awareness that we will probably never know the whole story.


If you want a taste, check out his podcast Revisionist History episode, The Queen of Cuba and his interview with Oprah on her podcast Super Soul.


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