18 December, 2015

Context matters

My eldest son and I have been exchanging books for some time now. Typically I give him crime fiction that I've enjoyed (but he doesn't give me the science fiction/fantasy that he enjoys). But a couple of months ago we enjoyed some common non-fiction reading.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell was recommended to him by his 11th grade English teacher. Our son enjoyed it so much that he went looking for other books by the same author in the library. This author is a Canadian journalist whose five books have all made it onto The New  York Times Best Seller list. It isn't easy to describe what he writes, but I would suggest: "sociology and psychology for the layman." Wikipedia says this:
Gladwell's books and articles often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences and make frequent and extended use of academic work, particularly in the areas of sociologypsychology, and social psychology

His popularity comes from an easy-to-read style that uses engaging story writing. He intertwines stories and research. Gladwell simplifies complex matters and applies them to our daily lives. It fascinated both me and my son.

The latest one I finished was: The Tipping Point. One of the topics addressed in this book is that context is a powerful influence on behaviour. Far more powerful than we are keen to admit. We've been told everyone has certain personality preferences and most of us know that those are fairly loose definitions. But people are far too complex to fit them neatly into boxes. 

I know that I am more extroverted in some situations than others, for example. Observe me in the context of my family and you might never guess I'm very quiet when confronted with a bunch of strangers. Spend time with me at a party and you might not see how I could be detail focused enough to sit for hours writing and editing.

Gladwell writes about an interesting study where seminary students were given the task to give a lecture, some about the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Then they were sent across campus to give it. Along the way they met a person in need, greatly resembling the parable. The researchers varied many things including the topic of the talk, but the only one that made a significant difference to whether they stopped to help or not was time. If the student was told they were running late, they didn't stop to help.

There are lots more concepts that I could write about here:

Here's just one more:

Snap decisions or another way to say it, thin slicing. This is something we're able to do (some better than others) and we don't understand why we've felt that way. For example, I had several encounters with an Allied Health professional earlier this year. I  had negative feelings about him (and his staff) very early on. Later my bad feelings were confirmed, unfortunately. Early on, though it would have been hard for me to accurately tell you why I came to that quick conclusion. We do this about lots of things, it can be a very helpful thing, or it can be not so helpful.

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