How Underdogs Awakened Faith
By Ken Walker-
Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, David and Goliath, is out. While it may take me awhile to find the time to read it, I am looking forward to the experience.
Gladwell writes the kind of material that stuck with me long after I read three of his previous books, starting with Blink. In one fascinating bit of research, he and many other subjects had an instantaneous, adverse reaction to the photo of a black man as a possible crime suspect. Since his mother is Jamaican, one could hardly accuse Gladwell of racist tendencies.
His point: negative assumptions often originate with cultural conditioning. So the answer is not endless howling about racism and negative stereotypes, but increasing our exposure to different races and cultures to break down misconceptions.
I enjoyed Tipping Point, where Gladwell explored in detail the idea that a groundswell of support for a product, idea or trend can reach a tipping point. The fervor that seemingly came out of nowhere in reality had built via word-of-mouth and other factors. Of course, this was before a Facebook-frenzied world can tip the public so much faster.
Then there was Outliers, where Gladwell traced the success of “overachievers” to a common denominator—devoting 10,000 hours of practice to their art, whatever form that takes. Seems that hard work does include rewards.
Underdog or Favorite?
His newest book is subtitled “Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.” Gladwell argues that David wasn’t necessarily the underdog, but brilliantly changed the rules of combat. Gladwell sees David as skilled at using the weapon of his choosing and having the advantage over Goliath of God’s spirit within.
New York Times columnist Tina Rosenberg did her best to shred Gladwell’s hypothesis. In a review in October’s The Atlantic, she carped, “In life, it’s hard to turn obstacles into blessings, and giants are by now adept at the art of battling insurgents.”
To rebut such a view, I would quote Paul: “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
However, aside from arguing over whether underdogs have a shot in life, there is another angle to this story that I found quite encouraging. Namely, that in working on David and Goliath, Gladwell rediscovered his faith.
Prior to reading an interview that originally appeared on Religion News Service, I only knew of Gladwell as an author and writer for The New Yorker. And, as someone who brilliantly discovered social trends and insights in academic research.
Turns out Gladwell grew up in the same Canadian province (Ontario) where my mother lived in her childhood. He also came from a long line of family members who were active in the Mennonite church.
“I had drifted away a little bit,” says Gladwell of the heritage that included many seminary graduates and lay preachers. “This book has brought me back into the fold. I was so incredibly struck by the incredible power faith had in people’s lives. It has made a profound impact on me in my belief.”
A Life of Purpose
I can identify with Gladwell’s reawakened faith. Although I grew up in church, starting around age 15 I slowly and steadily drifted away. Fifteen years later, facing a crisis so overwhelming that I couldn’t face it on my own, I decided God could do a much better job directing my life than I could.
Coming from a hard-bitten, skeptical journalism background, I found that while there may be snake oil salesmen in the church, those con artists don’t define everyone. I have also discovered that you can’t explain everything rationally and that it takes more than the five senses to make sense of life.
While my decision only affected a relatively small circle of family and friends, it’s a different matter when as skilled and well-known known an author as Malcolm Gladwell talks about returning to a walk of faith. His decision should have more pronounced ripple effects for years to come.