Sunday, May 17, 2020


Malcolm Gladwell TALKING TO STRANGERS—What We Should Know About The People We Don’t Know

Assumptions. We all make them, and understanding why we create these thoughts in our heads, and yes sometimes the heart with strangers is made clear by author Malcolm Gladwell in his latest book Talking to Strangers. Here are the assumptions Gladwell referenced that gave me a reason to pause and rethink the assumptions I have made, and honesty here...still guilty of at times making.

“We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers(p. 50).

“You believe someone not because you have no doubts about them. Belief is not the absence of doubt. You believe someone because you don’t have enough doubts” (p. 78).

“If you don’t begin in a state of trust, you can’t have meaningful social encounters” (p. 104).

“Default to truth becomes an issue when we are forced to choose between two alternatives, one of which is likely and the other which is impossible to imagine” (p. 130). 

“I believed in you always until I couldn’t anymore...default to truth” (p. 131). 

“Transparency is a mythan idea we’ve picked up from watching too much television and reading too many novels where the hero’s ‘jaw dropped with astonishment’ or ‘eyes went wide with surprise’” (p. 162).

“Our strategies for dealing with strangers are deeply flawed, but they are also socially necessary….But the requirement of humanity means that we have to tolerate an enormous amount of error. That is the paradox of talking to strangers. We need to talk to them. But we are terrible at it” (p. 166).

“We need help with the mismatched strangersthe difficult cases” (p. 185).

“The fact that strangers are hard to understand doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try” (p. 260). 

“We will never know the whole truth. We have to be satisfied with something short of that” (p. 261).

“And that means that when you confront the stranger, you have to ask yourself where and when you’re confronting the strangerbecause those two things powerfully influence your interpretation of who that stranger is” (p. 285).

“Don’t look at the stranger and jump to conclusions. Look at the stranger’s world” (p. 296). 

“There is something about the idea of coupling--of the notion that a stranger’s behavior is tightly connected to place and context---that eludes us” (p. 311).

“We could start by no longer penalizing one another for defaulting to truth” (p. 342).

“There are clues to making sense of a stranger. But attending to them requires care and attention” ((p. 343). 

“And behind every one of those ideas are assumptions that too many of us shareand too few of us have ever bother to reconsider” (p. 345).

Gladwell makes each of these points through the retelling of relevant points with multiple historical misunderstood events from history and current events. Each of his poignant examples conveys the meaning of each of the quotes I have shared in succession from his book, Talking to Strangers. Although my thoughts into what I am experiencing today as a school leader, during the COVID-19 pandemic is connecting Gladwell’s thinking to what I am being asked to do to support our students and our teachers.

Moving forward through and past this pandemic I believe gives us a great opportunity to move beyond our assumptions to those we serve nearest our homes, community, and classrooms. We may not have the privilege of truly living their experiences, but we can certainly try to understand the world they are experiencing. Let’s give each other grace, care, and attention during this unprecedented time and skip our possible biased assumptions.

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