Talking to Strangers
Malcolm Gladwell is a gifted writer who engages our minds and emotions in his works of non-fiction. In “Talking to Strangers,” he follows a similar thought path as some of his other books: something in society is grossly overlooked and can benefit from a fresh look. He tells us true stories that, at first, seem to be unrelated: A police stop ends in tragedy. Neville Chamberlain and other political figures famously misconstrued Hitler’s intentions. Experienced judges granted bail to defendants who, they realized too late, should have remained in jail. Bernie Madoff conducted a fraudulent investment scheme for years, deceiving many individuals who thought he was a genius at making money. Amanda Knox served prison time for a murder she did not commit.
Studies show that most of us who encounter apparently benevolent individuals are predisposed to believe that they are not acting. Conversely, when we meet someone who behaves weirdly or inappropriately, we are likely to jump to negative conclusions about him or her, even when there is little hard evidence to support our assumptions. The author suggests that many of us have an inflated opinion of our ability to size up people. Research suggests that we are not as objective as we would like to believe, and are therefore prone to misinterpret comments, intonations, facial expressions, and gestures. Moreover, we do not always realize that people whose backgrounds differ from ours may communicate in unfamiliar ways. The author’s premise is that society functions partly because most people default to a presumption of honesty and transparency when dealing with a stranger. A challenging and thought-provoking read, but well worth the effort.