Notes from A Talk By Malcolm Gladwell

Today I attended Malcolm Gladwell‘s talk on May 4th, 2017 in Chicago, IL at the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Here are my notes from his talk:

Gladwell begins by mentioning the talk was inspired by “The Whole United States is Southern” by Charles Payne, Professor at the University of Chicago.

Hypothesis: Is how psychology sees the world inherently flawed? Do we sometimes misattribute psychology and use a tool of psychology to solve a problem that isn’t psychological in nature?

  1. Gladwell cites Brown Vs. Topeka Board of Education (Segregated schools case during Civil Rights Movement)
  2. Mention of theory of self-hatred. Study: Students in segregated schools had lower levels of self-hatred vs. integrated? (Misattribution of cause example.)
  3. Brown made a sociological argument against segregation, while the Board of Education made a psychological argument against it. The reasoning for ruling against segregation is made for psychological causes (white southerner view), Gladwell argues it should be for sociological (African Americans seizing control over the institutions that have power over them.)
    • Sociological = systemic
    • Psychological = feelings of the affected people
  4. Gladwell argues the court shifted a their attention from sociological “power” to psychological “feelings”, a strategy/perspective of white southerners on African Americans, civil rights, etc.
  5. Gladwell remarks on the importance of teachers in education, they are rarely considered of in Brown vs. TBOE
  6. He mentions a (Vanderbilt?) study in which high achievement was linked to having a teacher of the same race. They were also less likely to be suspended.
    • Teachers preferentially treat people more like themselves better?
    • “Lincoln 11” Teacher Case. 11 Black teachers were fired after two schools were desegregated and combined. (I couldn’t find the case by Googling, I may have misheard?)
    • From 1954 – 1965: # of African American teachers decreased from 82,000 to 36,000 due to de-segregation of schools.
  7. Gladwell mentions Smith Vs. Allwright case and notes this may have been more of a landmark case for Civil Rights than Brown Vs. TBOE
  8. Overall shifting of discussion from power (sociological view) to  internal view (psychology) prevailed in Brown vs. TBOE and persists today in America (white southerner view)
    • “We’ve abandoned the sociological mindset”…
  9. Correct response to this: “Stop with introspection and hire black teachers.”
  10. Gladwell: Media prefers psychological narratives
    • Media feedback loop: more attention attracted by psychological perspective
  11. Paraphrase: Gladwell in a roundabout way proposes we randomize school choice for students and remove parental choice from schools
  12. Q: How should African American students proceed given these ideas? A: Solution is somewhere between extremes (interpersonal dynamics vs. structures.) Here Gladwell steps back from his main view in the talk and gives some acknowledgement to the importance of psychological experience vs. sociological, systemic environment.

I do not adopt nor disagree with the views expressed in these notes but will definitely contemplate further as the ideas expressed deal with highly sensitive, relevant issues in our society today. I tried to present these notes without bias or error. I have always enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s books and it was fun to listen to him speak. He is the author of Blink, Outliers, The Tipping Point, and David and Goliath, each of which I have read.

Desire

I believe it is beneficial to desire anything too strongly. (Easier said than done.) Desire is a big part of human life and I am not against it. Desire is healthy. But it needs to be kept in check. Unchecked, strong desires often correlate with expectations: taking actions and expecting certain results. This can be troublesome when we take an un-characteristic action only to achieve an expected result.

I have found, in cases where I’m acting against my own nature in order to gain some expected result, two things happen: 1) It leads to the opposite of what I expected. 2) I’m more upset because I acted outside of my preferred self.

So how can we avoid acting in ways that conflict with the way we want to be? Temper desires and realize them for what they are. Instead of being a slave to your desires, cultivate a mindset that will reflect your values as you try to accomplish your goals. When you do this, the situations you face may become more likely to reflect your desires anyways (call it good karma.) This seems to work for me, although it can be tough. Desire be desire go!

Additional Reading: Wu Wei AKA Trying Not to Try

The Internet Is Not Objective Reality

Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life and a secret life. – Gabriel García Márquez

The internet is what we project onto it. We humans have biases and goals to represent ourselves and our causes or beliefs in the best way possible. We also like to make our wins public, while usually keeping our losses private. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but recognize it’s there and don’t let it get you down. And maybe try projecting more positive things into our collective knowledge ecosystem. 🙂

 

Humans Are Meant to Create

If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. – Rollo May

The act of highest honor in life is creation. Every time we create, we step closer towards self-actualization. It is up to each of us to explore this world, seek out the works of those who have come before us, and expand on it with our own vision.

Whether running a business, career, art, science or any hobbies – are you a consumer or a creator? It is ok to consume, but is that all you are doing? Or, are you pursuing the things that make life worth living for you and trying to improve them by injecting your own individuality?

I go to music, computer programming and writing to find my acts of creation. Every human needs to create. When we create, we look outward at the world, bring the things we like into ourselves, give it our own spin and put it it back into the world. Regardless of the output, an attempt at this process is honorable in all cases. (Unless, for example, you are trying to improve on technologies that will kill other humans.)

The process of creating can be tough, but we usually feel happier afterwards. Think about what excites you most. What are you going to create?

Expectations

I spend a lot of time pondering expectations. Why? Because I think a lot of our unhappiness due the inevitability of reality not meeting up with our expectations. It’s important to realize that sometimes, things aren’t going to go how we want. When we release from our expectations and just take things as they come, we’re happier.

I do think that a positive mindset helps to achieve the best outcomes. However, when we expect too much of ourselves and others, it makes us discontent, whether subconsciously or consciously (when we’re visibly unhappy). So what’s the key? Manage your expectations carefully and let yourself be happy regardless of the outcome.

Inspiration For A Positive Outlook

My History With Positivity.

Looking at our world in 2017, there doesn’t seem to be much to be positive about. However, my driving philosophy revolves around optimism, education, and keeping a positive outlook. I think it’s important to keep a positive mind frame for ourselves and to lift up our fellow humans.

Back in 2014, I created a Facebook page called Positive Thoughts Daily. I began posting the things I read and found interesting there after I discovered the Positive Psychology movement. I was very excited about the ideas presented by Martin Seligman, a Harvard professor who is considered by many to be the father of the field of modern Positive Psychology. The main premise of positive psych is that our ideas and expectations of how we will perform and achieve our goals does actually affect our ability to achieve them. By creating the mindset that we will succeed, we are more likely to do the “undo-able”. Another book I read around this time that got me jazzed about Positive Psychology was “One Simple Idea” by Mitch Horowitz.

Another great series of videos comes from a Harvard professor named Tal Ben-Shahar.  22 lectures of his class, Positive Psychology 1504, are posted to YouTube for anyone to watch. You can find the first lecture here.

It’s been almost 3 years since I started posting to the PTD Facebook page, and I have decided it’s time to begin writing my own thoughts so I’m going to post them here.

My promise for Positive Thoughts Daily is: “Bringing you one inspiring thought (almost) every day with an edge of philosophy, psychology or anything that’s interesting.”, so the thoughts on this blog will echo that in some ways. I’ve chosen the name “Intellectual Positivity” for this blog because I believe a positive attitude, based on the ideas of the greatest thinkers in human history is a great foundation to live a good life and I want to share it with others! We’ll see how it goes 🙂 Thanks for reading!

Erick