Framing the Dialogue

Talking to Strangers

There was maybe one book by Malcolm Gladwell that I did not like.  He always makes me think when I read his words.  To be honest, I don’t always want to think when I read, but he makes me.

In Talking to Strangers (What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know) he delves into the interactions between people and why many times those initial interactions end badly…and sometimes deadly.  One of the things that struck me is that we generally “default to truth” or we tend to believe a stranger.  Gladwell provided plenty of studies to prove that we, as humans, are NOT very good at spying the lie.  Even people that are “experts” aren’t any better than random.  That’s is not a very comforting truth.

“But defaulting to truth is not a crime. It is a fundamentally human tendency. Spanier behaved no differently from the Mountain Climber and Scott Carmichael and Nat Simons and Trinea Gonczar and virtually every one of the parents of the gymnasts treated by Larry Nassar. Weren’t those parents in the room when Nassar was abusing their own children? Hadn’t their children said something wasn’t right? Why did they send their child back to Nassar, again and again? Yet in the Nassar case no one has ever suggested that the parents of the gymnasts belong in jail for failing to protect their offspring from a predator. We accept the fact that being a parent requires a fundamental level of trust in the community of people around your child.”

Another troubling reality is how much drinking on college campuses is causing problems.  Gladwell tells a compelling story of two students who both drank beyond their ability to make rational decisions which ended in a criminal activity that probably ruined both of their lives.  I found it hard to really fully blame either one as alcohol was the major factor.  And both students voluntarily drank to excess.

““When you talk to students [today] about four drinks or five drinks, they just sort of go, ‘Pft, that’s just getting started,’” reports alcohol researcher Kim Fromme. She says the heavy binge-drinking category now routinely includes people who have had twenty drinks in a sitting. Blackouts, once rare, have become common. Aaron White recently surveyed more than 700 students at Duke University. Of the drinkers in the group, over half had suffered a blackout at some point in their lives, 40 percent had had a blackout in the previous year, nd almost one in ten had had a blackout in the previous two weeks.”

…and the cases where folks spend days in the “blackout” stage and yet seem to function “normally”.

While entertaining, this book got me thinking and looking at things just a little bit differently.  As always, Mr. Gladwell provided provocative narratives well supported by evidence and studies.

“Because we do not know how to talk to strangers, what do we do when things go awry with strangers? We blame the stranger.”

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