Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell overall looks at the way we as humans harm by failing to understand and communicate with each other. He continues through his literature journey by talking about human behavior and examining pop culture to reconstruct human behavior. Gladwell takes issues that have happened over time that are controversial that people on social media are talking about all the time. But don’t seem to get anywhere, and the rest of the people who are afraid to talk about these topics. He then takes these topics and makes them into an intelligent conversation, he takes a wide picture and a small emotional picture and he turns them into one big picture where you can see everything in a good resolution. Gladwell makes sure to keep the audience engaged and surprised by talking about controversial topics such as torture rape allegations, child molesters, to spies.
Talking to strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, By Malcolm Gladwell, was published in September 2019. This book is a piece of research by Gladwell that explores the many ways in which people often misread each others emotions. Gladwell says “not only we often misinterpret each other’s words, but we also sometimes misjudge motives or misread claims of innocence” (Gladwell 10). Although Gladwell often says what happens with strangers, it is often misconstrued misunderstanding. We as humans tend to make assumptions based on the certain human attribute. Such as attitude, demeanor from people we know or don’t know. Gladwell also talks about his beliefs, on how people are often “mismatched” (Gladwell 11). What he means by this is the sense of an honest person, can one tell if a person behaves as an honest individual, in this case, he gives the example of Hitler. The reason he used Hitler as an example to show that many people have behaved like a person who is “honest”. Yet the actions that he did and took place because of his ill will be a “mismatched” act of what one sees and what one is.
One of the many questions Gladwell has proposed is “When we’re talking to strangers, why can’t we tell when the stranger in front of us is lying to our faces?” “How is it that meeting a stranger can sometimes make us worse at making sense of that person than NOT meeting them”. These proposed questions are thrown out in each real-life scenario given by Gladwell. There are no true real answers to these questions. Yet Gladwell states ‘These problems that we’re seeing are not confined to the darkest most problematic areas of our society. They’re everywhere,’ (Gladwell 241). Gladwell is referring to the tragic consequence of a misunderstanding between us humans, not knowing the answers to these simple questions are the overall breakdown of communication between individuals and strangers. These can determine the real implications when it comes to talking to certain types of people. Such as business owners, job interviews, etc. Despite the complexity of these questions, the author had offered advice in one of his sections about first encounters. The three concepts include, “Accept your limitations, Be ok with not getting it right, Don’t get caught off guard” (Gladwell).
The author begins with a few many accounts of African Americans who have passed away at the hands of the law, Gladwell uses these incidences to show how most of us are unaware of judging strangers. Gladwell continues his conversation by the countless psychological studies that demonstrate humans are terrible at detecting lying. Experts such as the FBI, are no better at detecting lying than the average person. If the average person cannot detect lying then who cannot? What makes people so sure that someone is lying. Gladwell states that “The main statistic is 54 percent” (Gladwell). This argument is that when we are trying to see someone who is lying we only see 54 percent. We only catch if someone is lying 54 percent of the time, this goes for all people FBI agent, specialist, even normal people.
Furthermore, Gladwell talks about the Transparency problem. Another issue he states is a major problem with talking to strangers there is a major lack of. Gladwell’s theory is that transparency is the idea that people’s behavior and demeanor are what they want to represent themselves. The emotional window provides insight into what that person represents themselves as on the inside provides an authentic appearance to what they feel on the inside. This is one of the major tools we use to understand people, we use it even when we don’t know someone, or we can’t communicate with them.
Yet a study was done by a Spanish anthropologist– did a study by different cultures and how they people of those cultures interpret different facial expressions. Where the expert showed the people different photographs of different facial expressions. He showed these expressions to different groups of people including children. During this study when showing people a picture of someone smiling 100 percent of people affiliated them as happy. But while showing a picture of someone scrunching their eyebrows 58% of Trobriand adults said it was a happy person and 23% denied them as smiling or neutral. While 7% percent of islanders said that it was an angry person. This shows that there is confusion across both cultures. Even if things seem universal such as expressions they are usually cultured based.
Hence, Gladwell goes into his topic of coupling, the coupling is the trend of certain data. He gets into suicide and how many people commit suicide by jumping off a bridge more than a single place in the world. Richard Seiden decided to do a study. He followed up with 515 people from 1937 and 1971 who attempted to jump but someone stopped or restrained themselves. The data showed us that suicide is in a coupling effect, by looking at the individual we miss where the person is culturally from and the environmental factors that played a large part in their behavior.
Overall I thought Gladwell is very brilliant, he made Talking to Strangers very interesting engaging connections by proving clever insights. It’s truly a new book of its time and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in human communication and theories. There were a lot of underlying messages in his writing. I found myself reading this for hours because he had so much information. Not only about real people but why the overall message and how our encounters shape our lives. His writing was very unique and artistic, Gladwell never fails to illustrate an overall picture for the simple understanding of his audience. I found his sociological approach to be very different from other sociologists. I found it to be half finding an answer to this issue and why it’s happening rather than the actual sociology part. The actual sociology portion of the book was rather dense and not clear but rather explaining his findings and why this is happening through real-world evidence. Yet this book was very dark. Gladwell talked a lot about controversial topics, some very uncomfortable to read about such as the suicides that happened and things happening in Cuba with the government not to mention torture and child molestation. Some things I believe Gladwell wants us to learn is “don’t believe everything you read in papers, magazines or on the internet, Trust family not strangers, Don’t believe anything anyone tells you until you check the facts first” (Gladwell). I think Gladwell wanted people to know these because we as a people are default setting is usually trust; we want to believe in something or someone. I think it’s safe to say that this is advice Gladwell gave in his book is something I will implement in my life. His stories and theories changed my mindset on how I will be interacting with the world from now on.