Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell, September 10, 2019, Allen Lane. Personal copy.
INTRODUCTION"Step out of the car!"
In July 2015 a young African American woman named Sandra Bland drove from her hometown of Chicago to a little town an hour west of Houston, Texas. She was interviewing for a job at Prairie View A&M University, the school she had graduated from a few years before. She was tall and striking with a personality to match....
The chapter goes on to describe the verbal exchange between Sandra and a Texas police officer who had pulled her over for failing to signal a lane change. The end result is that upstanding, educated, and blameless Sandra was arrested, handcuffed and thrown into jail. Three days later, she took her own life in prison.
And so begins this book, Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell, on strangers meeting and the misunderstandings and false assumptions that can sometimes result in tragic outcomes.
Misreading strangers can lead to a guilty Bernie Madoff being trusted by duped investors, to an innocent Amanda Knox being incarcerated for years and tried for a crime for which she was later exonerated. Spies high up in government have been misread by the CIA and trusted with secrets the spies regularly leaked to a foreign power. And it goes on...
A fascinating book that I read cover to cover in just a few days, intrigued by the facts the author presented to make his case. People are not as transparent as they may seem to us. They may be something completely different.
Most people will give suspicious people the benefit of the doubt, which is good for society to run smoothly, in general, but which can be disastrous when their judgment is wrong. This is part of Gladwell's conclusions on this topic, and just a part of what the book has to say about how we interact with and interpret the actions and behavior of a variety of strangers.
The next three chapters of Talking to Strangers are devoted to the ideas of a psychologist named Tim Levine, who has thought as much about the problem of why we are deceived by strangers as anyone in social science....
The book is persuasive, well researched, and thought-provoking. It will make you think twice or three times about the validity of your initial reaction to a stranger, positive or negative, whoever they may be.
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