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Those two things exist inside of me and my attempt to make sense of that apparent contradiction is what makes me a writer. You know what makes me someone I think that other people want to read. And I know there's no I feel under no compulsion to resolve that tension.
Rather the opposite. I should explore that tension.
Hey, everyone, welcome back to you on purpose. The number one health podcast in the world, thanks to each and every single one of you that come back to listen, learn and grow. Now, it's not every week that you get to sit down with someone who's inspired you since your teens and someone's books that really form so much of your Decision-Making, your psychology growing up and someone's books, you've had such a deep impact on my life that I know I've recommended a ton of them to each and every single one of you.
And so today's guest is none other than Malcolm Gladwell. He's a journalist, a speaker and the author of six New York Times best sellers, including The Tipping Point, Blinkx Outliers What the Dog Saw, David and Goliath and Talking to Strangers, which will be diving in today. Now, he's been a staff writer for The New York Times since 1996, and foreign policy is three times named in one of their top global thinkers. And he's been named one of Time's 100 most influential people.
The co-founder and president of Pushkin Industries and Pushkin Industries is an audio content company that produces the podcast Revisionist History. If you haven't listened to a highly recommend it which reconsiders things but overlooked and misunderstood. I'm so excited to discuss how to be a better communicator and revisit some history today. Welcome to the show, Malcolm Gladwell. Malcolm, thank you for doing this. Not at all. My pleasure. Yeah, it's it's an honor to have you here.
And I'm a fan of I believe Laurie Santos's podcast sits under your right.
Yes, most definitely. Yeah. Then Laurie and I've spent some really quality time together, and she was actually a big part of helping me research for my book. And it's kind of everything you're doing over there. But I wanted to start off by asking you about something, and I'm going to dive straight in here. But I've heard you say that when you visit the Lincoln Monument, you're always moved to tears. And I wanted to know why is that?
Oh, wow, so many reasons, I mean, part of it is just the simplicity. You know, the if you read the words inscribed on the wall of the monument, it's I've forgotten how many words. It's an absurd it's it's this almost absurdly short speech. Right. His most famous speech. It's over in two minutes. I don't even know. And yet it manages to say everything. It needs to be said about one of the most one of the greatest and most important moments in American history.
And that idea that you could communicate so powerfully about something so important in such a small number of words, I just find overwhelming. And it's such a beautiful sentiment as well.
I don't know. I it's true. I did that I'd forgotten. I'd said that. But it is true. I find that that monument extraordinarily moving.
Yeah. Now, that's beautiful. One of my favorite thoughts that I believe is attributed to Albert Einstein is that if you can't explain something simply, you don't understand it well enough. Yeah. And I think the art of communicating with few words in a poetic way is super powerful. I think one of the things that that I find and I've visited before but never moved to tears, but when I think about that, I often feel more moved to tears, even beyond words, but by people's behavior.
And in a positive sense, it's almost like when you're in the space of someone who embodies those words, that can definitely be something that that's been seen. It brought me to tears. I don't know if you've ever experienced that or being in the were you picking up on the fact that I am a little weepy.
So I think I think I can be moved to tears by that as well. So I may get moved to tears more than I, you know, I would care to admit. So, yes, those kinds of I am hopelessly sentimental in many ways.
Well, when I can very much relate, maybe that's why I love your book so much. I couldn't really connect that. I wanted to switch to the other side. And I was glad you said that you love spy thrillers. And I wanted to ask you, what is it about spy thrillers that you love so much about get your mind engaged?
I don't know. You know, it's a very good question. I read enormous numbers of mysteries and thrillers of all kinds. And but my my particular love is for the spy thriller.
I think I've never gotten over the kind of dark romance of the Cold War.
I don't I don't know if I have a good explanation for it about like espionage and people creeping around undercover and pretending to be something they aren't. And layering, layering lie upon lie and deception upon deception that I find just incredibly engrossing. But I'm a huge I don't read you know, I read serious nonfiction, but the fiction I read is always of this. You know, it's all this genre espionage and thriller fiction. I don't read anything serious. You won't catch me reading Proust.
It's you know, I'm reading that the most serious stuff I'm reading is probably genre carry. I mean, the rest of it is the kind of books you buy in airports. Yeah. It's just I suppose it's the way that I relax.
Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So I want to dive into a ton of different areas today. One is definitely you can already tell. I really want to dive into your mind and in some of the decisions you make in your life, I want to dive into your incredible book, Talking to Strangers that will be putting a link to available for everyone to grab as well. And the third and final things. I want to grab it, dive into your podcast, because I think it's it's fascinating.
And I've been a fan of that for a while, too. But the first thing I want to ask you is I love what you've said about us on how what we do as human beings is exploit our contradictions. You elaborate on that, because I think that that statement in and of itself is just so like it's kind of like a mind, Ben, that at the same time there's so much to unpack there. Let's unpack that together.
Yeah, well, I always find that when you get to know someone or when you listen to someone, really listen what you discover about them and then ultimately about yourself as well is that we're full of contradiction and that being contradictory is the one of the defining traits of being human.
So, you know, I was just talking about how I'm incredibly sentimental and weepy, but I'm also I'm the son of a mathematician. I am at the same time hyper rational, you know, do I think of those two things as being contradictory? Of course. But that's that's me, you know, and in the same way, I can point to, you know, if I I'm sure we could do the same kind. Analysis of you and I can do the same.
I can say the same of nearly all of my friends as I get to know them, I understand what parts of their character are formally in conflict, but they're not actually in conflict.
That what we do as human beings, as we navigate a way around those kinds of things, we get pulled in one direction or another and we kind of split the difference. So we figure out when do I want to be this and when do I want to be that. You in another version of this is.
In my case, it's more there's all kinds of interesting dimensions to this, I am the son of my father is was English, my mother is Jamaican, I am biracial. I belonged at my foot in two very different heritages. And people ask me, well, which way do you identify? And the answer is, I don't. I'm both. And being both. Is it a contradiction? You know, I see both sides of when I've written a lot about racial issues in my books, and one of the reasons I'm drawn to them is I see I feel I see both sides of them.
You know, I have a there's a part of me that's white that sometimes see the world through the through the lens of a privileged white man. And part of me is. Black and, you know, sympathizes with the other side of the equation very easily and readily and appreciates it, those two things exist inside of me. And my attempt to make sense of that apparent contradiction is what makes me a writer. You know what makes me someone I think that other people want to read.
And I don't there's no I feel under no compulsion to resolve that tension, rather the opposite. I should explore that tension. And I you know, so that's that's what I meant by that statement. I think all of us at our best do that. It's actually extremely reaffirming to hear you say that and to do the analysis on myself, as you mentioned, I obviously spent three years of my life living as a monk, and I spent my time, majority of it, in India.
And now I'm in the world of media and I live in L.A. and I feel completely at home being a content creator and producer in so many ways. And I love embracing those polarities like it excites me and it energizes me to tap into my mind and then my media mind and try and connect dots and see patterns where others see anomalies. And I genuinely embrace that. And I often get asked the same question that how can you still claim to have Monck elements in your life when you live such an, in one sense, externally driven life?
But to me, I don't see them even as transitions. I see them as I love being a paradox and I enjoy the paradoxical nature of how my mind can go between the two and find connections. And I've only seen that present me with more opportunities. And and what you said there was like to engage with that to to actually connect with that one. But I feel like our minds like to simplify and box. And that's why we see contradiction as controversy or we see it as a weakness.
Right. It's almost like what you just said is that if you are teary eyed and sentimental one moment and your mathematical the other, it's almost like one of them is a weakness. Why is it that we have this propensity to judge a contradiction or paradox or someone who embraces polarities as a weakness or a character flaw?
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There's a strain in the current climate which makes this worse, which is this idea we have now that we can reduce people's identity to something singular. We say of someone, you know, we see it in the political realm. Someone is a Trump supporter.
And we and we we believe when we say that, that every other fact about them ceases to be of significance. On the other side, we say there are lots of people. There is a very active you have an example. I don't mean this in any way, in a derogatory way, but there is now that has risen. A real activism in recent years around the trans movement, and these are people who define themselves by their sexuality in public, in public debate.
And my question to both of those in both of those cases is I accept that identity of yours. But I also want to know more. And I want to I want to see all of you, because even the most ardent Trump supporter is much more than that. I you know, I had a discussion with someone the other day who's a stepmother, and she was talking about how her identity as a stepmother is really, really important to who she is.
And every time she meets the stepmother, she's reminded of how in many cases, everything else pales in comparison to the complexities that come from being a parent. When I meet people, trans people, the thing that strikes me is how there is a million other sides to them that I want to know that are equally as important as their sexual identification. And I think we do them a disservice when we have a discussion about trans people in which all we do is talk about that aspect of their lives and neglect the other.
This is a kind of a way in which we allow ourselves to pigeonhole and dehumanize people, is to reduce them to a single thing. Now, why do we want to reduce people to a single thing?
Because, as you say, we have this weird desire to want to have this single, non contradictory understanding of someone. It's crazy. You know, I was I was trying to say I'm a big runner. Yes. Yeah. I was going to ask you about that. And I was talking to someone who's just started running and I was trying to explain the fundamental contradiction of running because I observed her. She's my neighbor's wife and I observed her running down the road.
And I was like, she needs my help. And she was she hadn't understood the contradiction in running, which was you are exerting yourself and pushing yourself at the same time as you are required to be relaxed and at peace. The only way to exert yourself is to be at peace. And I saw her exerting herself and she wasn't relaxed. She was tense. And I said I stopped and said, you can't run that way. Right. You have to understand fundamental contradiction of running.
The only way to push yourself is to be so relaxed in your upper body that if I touch you, you should follow. If I just saw you, you should fall over. That's how you should be.
Chin chin get she can gone that far. Right? She had to understand that fact. That's true in so many different aspects of our life. So very long winded way of answering that question. No, no that's that's great. That's so true. It's, it's, it's funny. I literally said that to someone about meditation two days ago, so I've been meditating for a long time. And it was the same thing around how so much of meditation is where people are forcing themselves to concentrate or forcing themselves to meditate or to empty their mind or whatever it may be that they are attempting or aspiring to do.
And so often it's actually the exact opposite is that the point of focusing is to let go so that you can allow yourself to be more present and be more aware, whereas we're trying to force ourself in a direction which which so aligns to running. And and I know I've had a lot of people describe running as a meditation state, but for some people it needs. Yes, no, it's not a long winded way. It's it's very connected to some things I can see.
I guess. I guess, yeah. For me, it's always just how do we or is there a way of training our minds to entertain and engage in opposing ideas without feeling the pressure to choose or define ourselves by them? Is there a method that we can expand our minds so that we can have both of these ideas coexisting without needing either of them to reflect the whole level of the truth?
Yeah, I think of that as that's my definition of what tolerance is.
What does it mean to be accepting and tolerant of others? And I think it is allowing there, giving them room for their contradiction. So. Allowing them to be I mean, I was talking about the trend of the trans movement of the trans identity, allowing someone to be that and whatever else they choose to be. Right. If they also want to be a Republican and they also want to be a rocket scientist and they also want to be a step mom, you know, to be whatever they want.
That's to me, that's what town and accepting the fact that those may be a group of of identities and responsibilities and roles that we may be unfamiliar with, that may trouble us, that may discomfort us. That may strike us as weird. It's our job to get over that. That's what it means to be a tolerant person, is to kind of embrace people in their complexity. I think that's there. And I actually struck one of the. Big differences between my generation and yours, I'm a generation older than you and your generation, and the one below you is I am struck when I meet young people at how much better they are at navigating or accepting those kinds of differences than I was at that age.
I think a lot of our issues in this society are a holdover from a much kind of more rigid way of appreciating people that comes from earlier generations. You know, in my company, the I'm the twenty five year olds that pushed in my audio company or other company, they sometimes blow me away. There's just so much it's so much easier for them to kind of wrap them, you know, to accept people in all of their, you know, glorious contradiction, harder.
It's harder for someone of my age.
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That's a great definition of tolerance.
Tolerance is a word that I don't hear that often apart from in said in spiritual circles and traditions. But that's definitely a great definition for tolerance. And and I really think that it's it is truly allowing people to when we say that we want to live in a world where people can be authentically who they are and express every part of them, it demands what you just said, because without that, we're almost trying to place them in just another box and a new set of boxes and that creating.
So that's refreshing to hear. It's very refreshing to hear. I want to dive into talking about the book, talking to strangers, because what I find fascinating is you wrote this book before everything happened. And and it almost when I said everything happened, I mean, everything that's happened in twenty twenty and it almost seems like it's been written perfectly for this time in so many ways. There's there's so much about the book. I remember first coming across it when it was first released and I think I missed an opportunity to interview a Facebook in New York briefly.
And I was thinking, when will I get a chance to interview? But it almost feels like this is an even better time because there's just these questions. It becomes so much more compelling in front of mind. I wanted to ask you to just start with because it's cool talking to strangers. How do you define or how can people define who a stranger is in their life? Is just, I think anyone who is not a member of your intimate circle, so I don't have trouble, I mean, we all have some trouble communicating with our loved ones, but we have enormous advantages when it comes to communicating with loved ones and in many ways, as human beings were built to communicate effectively with those in our intimate circle.
That's how we evolved as a species. When we have context, when we understand people's. I remember when my my dad and I used to be able to we spoke in this weird language where he would start a sentence and I would know exactly what he meant and he wouldn't have to finish it. And, you know, he do the same with me and we would literally talk in two word sentences.
And that's that. That is the beauty of intimacy. Right. My mind was structured like his we had we shared the same world and I knew what he was getting at and he knew what I was getting it. You don't have that luxury with someone outside your circle. And so this book is all about what happens when the tools that we were given by evolution to deal with our intimates are used on strangers. And the answer is they fail not all the time, but often.
And I wanted to kind of navigate that failure and try and figure out, well, what what should we do then if these these time tested strategies for communicating with others no longer work? Because the weird thing is, you know, I talk about this in the book. The idea that we would have regular conversations with people we don't know is such a modern notion, like until 100 years ago or 150 fifty years ago, the odds that I would be having a conversation with you were zero, right?
I would never have had a conversation with someone of your background. You never have a company on my back when it happened, like, you know, so it's like. And so if you think about that, are that in a very, very short period of time, we've been asked to do something as human beings that we never had to do before.
And I begin talking to strangers with this, an account of one of the most high profile of the encounters between African-Americans and police, the dead, the the Sandra Bland incident, Texas, where a young black woman is pulled over by a Texas a white Texas cop and she ends up hanging herself in her cell few days later.
But what's interesting about that interesting what's singular about that encounter is. For most of us. The idea, like I grew up in a small town, if I was pulled over by a police officer, I knew the police officer and he knew me and he knew my parents and I knew his kids. And I went to the cop in my small town growing up. He went to my church, the aide said. So the conversation between if I was doing something I should be doing and he pulled me over, he would say, Malcolm, first thing, the first thing you would say was, Malcolm, what are you doing?
And then he would say, Do I have to call your parents? Right. It's a totally different conversation when you know the person from your community and he would know whether I was a bad kid or a good kid or a well, did I have a headache? Pulled me over three times before for drinking or not, or was I a good kid who just did something stupid?
In the case of that officer and Sandra Bland, he doesn't know anything about her and she doesn't know anything about him. And that requires of him principally a wholly different set of behaviors and strategies all of a sudden, what things he's holding in his head and what assumptions he's using to understand her and what biases he's carrying are super consequential. And that's what I was trying to get out of the book.
Yeah. And and of course, he completely misread in that situation there is. Debauches it. Yeah. Yeah. What are those things that we then are what are like the biggest pitfalls in our assumptions and biases when we're first meeting a stranger, where is it that we naturally go wrong? Because in the example you gave of speaking and communicating with your father, it's almost like you're on the same algorithm and the Google autofill is there. And, you know, it's like Google reading your mind and knows what you've typed in or what most people type in.
And sometimes I think we think we can do that like we almost have. I feel like maybe it's just me, but I feel like we have an intuition where we sometimes feel like just by meeting someone we know, whether they're right for us to marry, they do business with collaborate. We're like we always try and we always trust ourselves enough to figure that out in one meeting. Yeah, yeah. But in this book, you're always telling us that it's not that easy.
We're often making mistakes. What are those mistakes?
Yeah, well the most three I talk about but. The one I'll start with, the second that I talk about, and it's it's it's this what I call the illusion of transparency, and that is this this idea that what can I tell about you from observing your facial expressions, your body language, how you carry yourself and hold yourself.
We as human beings place a great deal of emphasis on that kind of evidence. We use that evidence to send people to jail to judge guilt or innocence, to figure out whether the people someone likes us or doesn't like us.
And if you ask us, we're pretty confident in the judgments that we make based on those that kind of evidence. And but the truth is, we're terrible at decoding people's emotional states from observing. They're the outward the outward manifestations of those days. I cannot look at you right now. Just observe your. Facial expressions that have the slightest clue what you're thinking, you could be you could think, I can't believe this guy is such a moron, you could be thinking this is so much fun.
You could be thinking about what you can have for dinner tonight. I have no idea, but I can certainly try. I am looking at your face right now. And I am you know, some part of my brain is saying, OK, is he interested? Is he not? And he is. I'm drawing all kinds of conclusions.
But if I am completely honest, I have to own up to the fact admit to myself that almost all of those conclusions are false, or at least I have put it better.
I have no way of knowing whether my conclusions are true. Right. So that's if it's my if you're my dad and I've known you for my entire life, I'm I'm not bad at making sense. I know that when my father is looks a little puzzled and perplexed, it's not that he's angry at anyone. It's just that he's daydreaming or I know that when he hands and hears about something, it's not that he can't make up his mind. It's because he's just weirdly inarticulate sometimes.
Right. I know that about my dad. I don't know that about you. Right. And until I spend all that time with you, I can't be drawing conclusions from that kind of stuff. And we it is astounding how many mistakes we make because of this simple assumption that we think we you know, what's the whole job interview based on? You meet someone and you ask a bunch of questions. And most mostly what you're doing is you're looking at their body language and you're looking at a famous person and trying to say, oh, this is nice person.
Is this an honest person?
You can't tell that from looking at the gut. So it's like that's a kind of that's a big thing that I explored in the book. And that's what happened in the case of Sandra Bland.
The cop observes her behavior and he thinks that she's behaving in a way that is suspicious and dangerous is the furthest thing from dangerous. And she's not behaving suspiciously. She's upset. She's mad because she got pulled over for no reason. And he doesn't understand that.
He confuses, you know, her being upset with her being dangerous. Those could not be more different. Right. That is a if you're a police officer about to make a consequential judgment about how to deal with someone, if you confuse those two emotional states, you're making a huge error.
And I guess in that situation, of course, the police officer or someone in that role has the pressure of feeling or there's a feeling of a pressure to make a decision in a short period of time. But in some areas of our life, we don't really have that. We almost place a pressure on ourselves because we don't really have a window to decide.
Just with the hiring example, I was recently reading a leadership and recruitment book, and there's there's a theme in it that was called Hire Slow, Fire Fast. And it was just talking about I like the hiring process needs to be much slower because what we usually do is hire fast and fire slow. And so saying that there needs to be that shift. But we almost put a pressure on ourselves, like, what if I don't know if he or she is the one in this meeting, then I'm going to be single forever or whatever it is.
So is it time? Is it more interactions? Is it what what is that that's that's going to allow us to improve the real time.
I mean, times let's a big part of this and funnily enough, you know, in the wake of the George Floyd case, a lot of was a lot of really interesting things that I I mean, I listened to a number of people who've studied law enforcement, law enforcement to the United States. And one of the most interesting thing I heard was there are an awful lot of police departments in this country that place very strict time limits on officers in when they're dealing when they're out dealing with the public.
You are required to wrap up your encounter in a given amount of time and you are applauded and rewarded when you deal with people quickly and you are penalized when you're slow. That's crazy, right? You can't do that. Similarly with doctors, we make doctors, you know, insurance companies make doctors. They give them clear incentives to be as quickly to deal with patients as quickly as possible to the point where doctors feel like they're on an assembly line. That's also that's a way to create misunderstanding and mistakes.
Right. You cannot speed up some of these encounters. So times are a big part of it. A not a big part of that is empathy is you need to be able to put yourself in the shoes of someone else for a moment.
And that is both. In order to do that, you need to you need both more information about that person, but you also need to be trained in the capacity of of sitting on. Your own perspective and you and I can't believe I'm saying this to someone who spent time as a monk, I mean, a lot of what you do when you are in that environment and when you do things like meditate is you train yourself to do that kind of thing.
Right. To to step outside your own consciousness. And, you know, a police officer has to be, in a way, a social worker, a psychologist, and all of us have to play that role and that that requires it.
That's a real act of humility to do that, to set aside your own feelings and instead ask the question, what would I be thinking if I was in this person's shoes and what are the range of possible reasons why this person is behaving the way they are?
Yeah, and today we have such an incredible ability to do that because like you said, one hundred years, a hundred years ago, we would be talking and people wouldn't be listening to this. We wouldn't have the opportunity to listen to this. And because of that, we today exposed to more ideas, more cultures, more backgrounds, more walks of life, which means our compassion and empathy should actually be increasing because we have the ability to hold more knowledge and depth about a number of backgrounds and walks of life, which we wouldn't have had before, which naturally closes our mind.
But it seems like sometimes the more exposure we get, the more judgmental we can become too. Because of the differences. It's almost like you said before, like one hundred years ago, all the town you grew up in where your police officer knew your name, which is which is insane for me to think about. I was born and raised in London. That was definitely not the case.
But from going from that, where you feel like, you know everyone you trust, everyone you know, everyone's parents, you know where they live, that creates somewhat of a safety net. Where is where is there's so much more fear in today's society because there is so much of an unknown. Yeah.
You're going to say I would say the I think you're right.
And we're get we're better at this than we were. And that's what I was taught about earlier. But the problem is that the the the task is harder. And that's sort of what it is like 50 years ago in the workforce, virtually everyone I would have dealt with would have been a college educated white male. Right from I can probably go further, if it was seventy five years ago, a college educated white Protestant male, you know, it's not when everyone is cut from the same coming from the exact same slice of and middle class to upper middle class in the media world.
That's what it was. Right. I'm a journalist at The Washington Post in nineteen seventy. Everybody is a white. Pretty much everyone is a white, upper middle class male, either Protestant or Jewish, who went to one of 10 colleges.
Right now it's not that way. Right. And it's just that it's just harder now. And we're we're better.
But we're I think the difficulty of the task before us is accelerating faster than our own abilities.
You know, it's I think that's probably the best way to to make sense of the dilemma we're in. Yeah, I think that's been accelerated even more today in digital communication.
Like, obviously, we're not sitting next to each other right now and never listening and watching us is not sitting next to us right now. And everyone's been forced into this conversation or digital conversation that they're having right now.
And I wonder what your thoughts are on digital communication and how that and hey, let's let's be totally honest. Even before this, when you were referring to my generation of the generation after, especially the generation after, the one after that, most of the communications happening digitally and potentially not even through Facebook. And it's happening through text and it's happening through words, where where does that leave us to really feeling like we understand people and that they understand us and that feeling of feeling understood and understood.
Yeah, well, I mean, I guess. What I would say is, I mean, let's talk about this conversation we're having over. What is it we can't do over presume? Well, I can't see you. What is that? We're we're probably going to hang out less than if I had come to your office. And so we might have chit chat before we might have chitchatted afterwards. We might have if we got along, we might have had a meal.
Imagine if we'd gone for a walk and instead of talking face to face, we'd spoken side by side. Now, that sounds like a. A trivial thing, it's not a trivial thing. Different conversations when you walk with someone because you're not looking at them and all of a sudden, like people always talking about how they took these, you know, with their best friend, a wonderful car car trip across country when they were 19 years old.
And what amazing conversations they had. A lot of that is about being in the same place with someone for hours and hours on end. While that is like side by side and not face to face, you could have a different conversation.
And then when someone is eating, they're relaxed and you see a different side of them, then you would and you learn something new, like even something that may seem trivial, like what someone chooses to eat and how they eat it, what they say about the food they're eating.
I mean, these are all like they just help you fill out the picture a little bit. And I think it what it does is it softens like I was this. I took an interview with a guy who's a journalist who's made his living doing really, really confrontational interviews with people. And he was being interviewed about his technique. And a guy that the interviewer asked him, do you prefer to do this face to face or on telephone or online?
He goes, oh, always on the telephone, never, ever face to face, because he knows he can't be mean face to face. Right. So it's I think it softens the encounter when you can spend time, unstructured time with someone. And I think that's what that's what we see in social media, is it's the harshness of the tone has to do with the fact you're never meeting the person that you're attacking. You wouldn't say that if they were sitting next to you, right?
That's my worry about these times. I worry that too much of this digital thing is going to remove the possibility for. When they go to a lot of tangent, my I've been I've been interviewing for a project the the singer Paul Simon spent many, many hours with him and I've decided my favorite Paul Simon song is a song which is called Tenderness. And the chorus is Just try some tenderness beneath your honesty. And my argument to him was that that's the story of his.
Life in some way, he's someone who is trying to convince people to not to be dishonest. Keep your honesty, but put a little tenderness in it. And I think that what meeting face to face about is all about is it doesn't change the honesty of the conversation. It means there's more tenderness.
Yeah. And that's and that's definitely something that's missing today. I think you're so right that we're that we've obviously been talked about before, the accountability of when you're in front of someone versus when you're when you're behind a keyboard. But I think tenderness is such a great word because we are so much more equipped to communicate in a way that we think we are accountable to and accountable for when we're face to face. And I've definitely found that. I remember one of my managers saying to me that, oh, whenever there is a conflicting conversation to have, it was better to walk together.
So you felt you were walking in the same direction, even if you had opposing views. And so that ability to not sit across from a table across from each other.
That's exactly what I was talking about. Yeah, I know. That's so lovely. I actually had never thought about as the best beautiful illustration or use of that side by side principle.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, just side by side, walking in the same direction, same vision, even if you have conflicting ideas, because when you sit like this, of course we're not being confrontational, but an interrogation would always be like this. And therefore I think so many people feel interrogated in interviews or on dates that matter. And I agree with you on the side by side. I remember some of my best conversations with my friends growing up were both of us playing video games together.
And so, like, I was like I was almost conscious mind would be completely switched on for the game and then our subconscious mind could actually connect with each other because we were just, you know, so wired into this game that we could play without even having to think about it, that we were able to let go and kind of get beyond the barrier that that guys may never have gone. If we were sitting, having a drink together or juice together or something like that, it just wouldn't have happened.
I've definitely experienced that over video games, or at least I can remember a lot of great conversations that happen over lost games of Pfieffer and other video games.
But I was going to say, well, what gives you play? It makes it even make sense. You grew up in London, yet it's going to be a lot of FIFA.
Yeah, I'm I'm big into sports games of FIFA and the I played a lot of Assassin's Creed growing up now. It was like I could handle anymore the football, the big love of mine having grown up in England. Yeah. You can't not love football. So yeah. You never did you spend any time in England growing up? Well, I was born in Kent and we we left when I was six. OK, but we would go back.
I mean I've been, I've been, I go to England, you know, once or twice a year and have done so for thirty years.
So I'm very and I feel very at home, you know, going back to the contradictions to part of me, there's there's a part of me that feels very, very, very at home in England.
Yeah. Talking, talking about going home and revisiting. I wanted to talk about your podcast, revisionist history. Again, as I said to everyone, it's it's an incredible podcast and a big part of what the podcast is. It's about looking to history and looking at the overlooked and the misunderstood. If you had to do an episode on a past event in your life, what do you think can be misunderstood or overlooked by you if you were to reflect on it?
Oh, wow, it's really, really, really good question. Uh huh. Take your time. Yeah, I mean, I guess I would go back. If I was going to do something, I would do a lot of what ifs. I'm not someone I'm very happy with, the path that my life has taken, but I'm not someone who thinks this was the only path that I could have taken. And so I really wonder, and I am I am conscious of the fact that there are crucial moments in my life when I could have broadened my experience and I didn't.
Instead, I chose to stay where I was and burrow deeper. And I as I've gotten older, I've I have I'm more and more convinced that was the wrong strategy. So when I was in my late 20s, I was working at The Washington Post. I had an opportunity to go to Europe and be the Germany correspond, basically European correspondent for The Washington Post, based in Germany. And this is early 90s, just after the wall fell.
And I I didn't do it. And similarly, I thought after graduating from college that I. I had a notion that I would go to graduate school in Jamaica and that it would be a really interesting way to explore that part of my heritage and broaden my perspective and live in a very different culture.
And I didn't do it. And part of me regrets both those decisions, because I look at myself now and I say, what what is lacking from my life? It is a little bit of that breadth, you know, I have.
So that's, you know, those are those of I would go back and I would re-examine those decisions and I would try and figure out, was I scared? Was I what was going through my mind that kept me making much more conventional decisions than I perhaps should have been then even opening up.
Thank you for sharing that. It's always it's it's always fascinating. Just and I never I didn't think that you had anything that you regret or that you're not happy with where you are. So that was definitely not what the question was aimed at. It was it was definitely just an intrigue. I think that especially with how you talk about things being misunderstood and overlooked, I think that's what I love about what you do on the podcast. It's not so much about this is wrong or it's it's so much of history.
And we always hear that, you know, history is always told from the winner's side and history is always told from the people that benefited from what you know, with the events that took place. I guess.
How do you find. How do you think that history can be most usefully used, because I find that because in the past that in hindsight was such a gift, but it almost feels like what's that beautiful statement by Mark Twain? You know, history never repeats itself, but it always rhymes. And, you know, it's it's that kind of feeling of like I think hindsight was such a gift. But it seems even now that because when we do hindsight, we actually realize so much was misunderstood and overlooked, that now we focus so much on that.
How have you find history and reflecting on history? How is it actually practical and useful in today's world? You do it so much.
Well, it goes back to what I was saying before about the importance of empathy in understanding another and how you have to be trained in that particular art. And I think that history is one of the ways in which you train yourself in the art of empathy because. The great luxury of history is you have time has passed and usually many, many, many people, serious people have weighed in on the events that you're interested in. So what you have is a breadth of perspective, a rare breadth of perspective on the actions of others.
And if you do it right, you you you get practiced in the art of empathy. You can look at everyone involved in any consequential moment and see it through their eyes.
Now, you may not agree with everyone, but you still had this opportunity to revisit something from another perspective. So, you know, I've been working on a huge project. I did it in four episodes of my podcast were about the Second World War, this decision made by a general in the Second World War to bomb Tokyo to with fire bombs in March of 1945 and then subsequently gone back. And I'm now turning it into a much larger book. And, you know, there's all these different characters in that time, all of whom have very different perspectives.
And you think when you start that guy's wrong, that guy's right. This is outrageous. And then six months later, you don't think that way anymore. You you you don't even. You don't use that language. You still have a moral perspective, but you're the language you use is different. What you say is I understand why that person made the decision that they made, even though I think I disagree with it. That's the way you phrase it.
And that's such a much more evolved and important way of phrasing your. Your feelings about someone and their actions is if we could all somehow use that perspective in the way we made sense of each other. I feel like the world will be so much better. That's about that. I think what the function of history is.
Yeah, that's such a great answer that that's that's a brilliant answer, actually, because. Yet if history was used in that way, like you said, it's such a rare opportunity to dive into something when it's not being defined as we're in it, most decisions we have to make are, at least again, the false crashworthy illusion of pressure that it has to be decided today. But history gives you this complete.
Kind of stillness of time, and you slow down and pace to just re observe, and I love what you said about that transformational change in perception. Our instinct to intuitive initial understanding is so much about love or hate, black and white, and it's so divided even in our reaction and response. But you're so right that you can was weave it together more as you let it settle. I wanted to dive into this season's theme, which is attachment. And I think I talk I talk about attachment in different ways in my podcast.
Consider my background, too. But, you know, sometimes, obviously attachment hurt perceptions of what really is and we've heard it before that we get more lost in what if rather than what is in this distortion of reality that exists because of our attachment to illusion or ideas or hopes. Can you give an example that you've seen where where attachment actually hurts or potentially even benefits if it doesn't anyway?
Yeah. Well, I was focused on the on the season, on the downside of attachments and what I pay attention to, I was talking about attachments really to ideas and practices that become, you know, so much of the reasons for why we do what we do our unexamined.
And I was trying to examine them, so I. One of my favorite episodes this season was about a guy, it was the second episode of the year about this guy goes to Bolivia and tries to convince high school students in Bolivia why he's in Bolivia is not the story.
But he happened to be in Bolivia. He wants him he wants high school students to elect their student councils by lottery.
To choose their leaders by lottery, and he makes this very compelling argument about how you get better leaders when you choose them randomly, that more people.
Are involved that they have a much broader those who you choose have a much broader perspective on on what issues they want to address and more, most of all, you what you learn is that there are all kinds of people who are capable of good leaders who you would never have thought before.
And so what the currents, what the current system does, what what democratic elections do, instead of opening up possibility to everyone, they actually close possibility to many people.
And what was fascinating about that is that's an incredibly incendiary idea that you would do away with an election and we would be better off with a lottery. Why is it incendiary? Because we have this attachment to this particular ritual of choosing our leaders. And we've had it for a couple hundred years and we've told ourselves it's the best ever and we won't look at any other alternatives. And we have kind of all kinds of myths have grown around this particular ritual, which we don't look at either.
One of them is, is that we were good at predicting who's going to be a good leader. We are not we're terrible at it and we will. And by the way, there has been a mountain of evidence as to how bad we are at it, and yet we refuse to revisit that question.
We're overly attached to a particular way of choosing our leaders.
That's a beautiful a really good example of how we get and how our attachments get in trouble.
And what I would like people to be is to be freer when it comes to thinking about possibility in the world. OK, please, please go ahead. Another of my favorite episodes was called Hammet is Wrong, and that's this notion of the famous economist, and that was his favorite slogan.
And what he meant was Hamlet was someone who was paralyzed by his choices. Like to be or not to be. That's the question. He couldn't decide what this guy said. Actually, I had it backwards that when you don't know what's going to happen, you're free to do whatever you want. Right. So, you know, that's another way of saying the same thing that freedom is being able is detaching yourself from this desire to predict the future or this phony sense that, you know what's around the corner.
You don't know what's around the corner. And that means you should be you should be free to follow whatever course you want. That's like such a powerful, liberating notion. Yeah.
Yeah. No, I think so too. I think. I think sometimes we feel more confined by systems than. Their effect. And so one of our excuses to ourselves around questioning ideas or beliefs that we have is because we feel that they are already predefined and predetermined by the world we live in. And so it's almost like an excuse that, oh, well, I can't question this because it fits with within a bigger construct that won't actually allow me to exercise that freedom.
And I'm guessing you're saying that that's actually to some degree fault.
Yeah, I always had this conversation. I have a lot of friends with high school age kids who are all thinking about going to college. And I would say exactly the same thing to them. I say, what were you thinking going to college and now list the same names you always name? And I always say, well, why would you go abroad when you go to apply for, you know, I don't know, some school in Johannesburg or.
You know, or Serbia or I mean, their English language universities all over the world you go to. Why would you can find yourself to, you know, Brown or Williams College or whatever the favorites are of the moment?
And they they never have a good answer right there, like flummoxed by that question. Or I say you've applied to the colleges that you think are the quote unquote best.
What if you went to. You know, a you know, a big public school in the Midwest instead of some fancy elite coastal private school, you would meet lots of people you would never otherwise meet. It might really expand your horizons. It's still the same person, plenty of brilliant professors at those schools. But just like you're going to meet kids. Just a wider range of why wouldn't you go to a place where you'd meet the widest range of people and they don't have a good answer to that question.
They're 17 years old and they're already powerfully attached to two notions which have no intrinsic validity.
Right. And it breaks my heart. But I was the same way at that age and it breaks my heart right now. I'm that way. Why was a conservative. At 17 is the one time in your life when you don't have to be conservative in your choices, particularly these kids, by the way, their parents are, you know, comfortably off.
They can have their parents can afford to back them if they want to go somewhere weird and the parents can afford the plane ticket to Johannesburg, get on a plane like, you know, like it's so fascinating to me that, like, it's weird that as a teenager, we are we're terrified of, like, doing something, you know, out of the ordinary and nobody doing something.
I don't know your story, but you did something completely out of the ordinary. That's that's super interesting to me. Right. That decision that you made.
Yeah, I was 22 and I decided to I thought I was going to be an investment banker, a consultant, because that was the 18 year old me kind of I wanted to be an art and I wanted I wanted to be an art director or something like that. But I didn't realize I didn't believe that could be a real career growing up. And so I I settled for business and thought, OK, I'll go and make money and be safe.
And and then after having interned at companies every summer from 18 to twenty two, but also spending the other half of my holidays and vacation, spending them in India, training with monks, I decided at the end of my degree that I should go off and live as a monk instead of unaccompanied. So that's what I did. And we can go separately. But but yeah, I was really fortunate that I got I got to meet a monk at 18 that planted a new seed of an idea that I was exposed to.
And I think that's the challenge, that one side is exposure, where we're highly exposed to similar ideas, the same thought processes and the same things being rewarded in a culture. And I think reward is so important that if you're only seeing financial fame and powerful reward being around certain areas of society, then we naturally gravitate. There was no one is giving me any awards for becoming a monk or no one is giving me any. You know, there was no incentive to go out and become a monk.
But I always feel like if I wasn't exposed to that person when it happened and I remember a study that Mitt did, which was which is on creativity and productivity of employees, but they showed two charts and one chart was employees where they knew people who knew people who knew them back. And then the second shot was an employee who knew people who didn't know each other. And they found that people who knew people who didn't know each other were more likely to be creative and innovative inside an organization, because going back to how we started, they were able to hold opposing views.
And that, to me fascinated me. And then when you look at some of the most brilliant minds in innovation or tech or I'm sure journalism, but anyway, it's all people who did really random things or at least were exposed to very disconnected random ideas. Yeah. And that's the I get fascinated by that stuff, so I'm glad.
But I want to be mindful of your time. Malcolm, I could talk to you for a lot longer, but we're going to dive straight. And I've got so many questions I wanted to ask you about, but we'll save them for a pot to when you write your next book, hopefully you'll come back on. But this is yeah, this is something that we do at the end of every episode. It's called the final five. So these are answers in one word or one sentence maximum.
I have been known to break rules when I feel like it, but I urge all of our guests to to answer in one word or one sentence. Back to the first question for you is, what do you know to be absolutely true about human behavior that many people disagree with you? Or would have been opposing the. That even the worst of us are redeemable, so you believe that even the worst of us irredeemable, right? OK, great, wonderful answer.
OK, second question. What something that's socially acceptable that you don't agree with.
Smoking pot, no, carry on. OK, we have to say that in part two to question number three, the hottest recent change that you've made in your life, the most difficult. And. Wow. That's a hard one, starting a company. Yeah, I'm sure that's super hard.
OK, question number four, what was your biggest lesson that you've learned in the last 12 months? That we are. I mean, since the pandemic started, way more resilient. Then I would have imagined I would have thought we were in chaos by this point and we're not I mean, we've come close a couple of times, but man, we had been through a lot in this world and in this country over the last.
Seven months and we are we're hanging in there, absolutely. OK, question number five, if you could create a law that everyone in the world had to follow, what would it be?
So I'm going to follow it, I'm going to steal an idea that a friend of mine said the other day that I loved a keep in mind a friend of mine who told me this is very wealthy. She said, I would like to pass a law that everyone in the world has to put their name in a hat and switch.
Everything about your life stays the same, but you have to switch homes with the person who you draw out of the hat.
Permanently. Wow, that would be amazing. Permanently, permanently. Well, that's incredible. That is a first on purpose we've never had such a low bid passed or name. So I appreciate you sharing that with us. Anyway, Malcolm, that was your first live, everyone. Malcolm Gladwell, talking to Strangers is the name of the book that we've been discussing today. Go and grab a copy, put the link inside it. Like I said, I would have to say this categorically.
I'm happy and I'm very comfortable saying it. Malcolm Gladwell is my favorite author of All Time.
And so without a doubt, Malcolm's books have been a huge influence in in my life and probably will part of me becoming a monk in some way or the other anyway. So I'm very grateful to Malcolm. I would check out any of his books, not not just this one, but this one's a great one. Please go and check it out on his podcast, Revisionist History, as we mentioned before and discussed as well. Go and take a listen.
And Malcolm, thank you again for coming on the show. I hope this is one of many and I look forward to getting to know you better as well.
And I and I hope we can do dinner or a walk sometime. That will be lovely. Thank you so much. Thank you so much, Malcolm.
And look forward to look forward to everyone getting to take you up on the wonderful.