Episode 1 – Malcolm Gladwell – Talking to Strangers

Episode 1 – Malcolm Gladwell – Talking to Strangers


I remember as a child,
we would go at Christmas
to see my grandparents. And I would witness–
you know, we were
coming from England, the most reserved
country on Earth, and we were going to Jamaica, one of the more extroverted
countries on Earth. And I remember as a kid, like,
I would just be so perplexed. I would see my uncle, like,
you know, at the gas station shouting at the–
someone who worked at
the gas station. And, you know,
it would turn out later
they were friends. I was like, “You just were
yelling at them.” What is going on?”
I mean, this little, like, totally perplexed six-year-old,
you know, kind of wondering, “Why are you yelling at this
person who’s your friend?” – It’s, like, no,
it’s just Jamaica.
– Exactly. A love of the hyperbolic. In a word,
Malcolm Gladwell is… A very quiet mystery
which I would like to unravel. He’s the kind of person
you can just have a conversation for, like,
three or four hours. If you’ve never read
a Malcolm Gladwell book… Read one, stat.
Just pick one up. Please, any one.
They are all good.( music playing )– Hello. I’m Malcolm.
– Hi! As you know, “BookTube”
is a vibrant community of people who come to YouTube
to share their love of books, learning, reading,
and I think we’re all delighted to be welcoming you today to
this IRL “BookTube” book club to discuss your latest book
“Talking To Strangers.” So, my first question is
why this book, why now? This book began
with my reaction to the Sandra Bland case,
which is the case that begins
and ends the book.This was the young
black woman in Texas,
gets pulled over
by a police officer.They get into an argument.Get out of the car! – And then you’re gonna stun me?
– I will light you up. Get out!And then she gets arrested
and she commits suicide
three days later in the cell.It’s just this incredibly
heartbreaking story.
And it struck me, I mean,
I was like many people,very moved and distressed
by that case.
But I also realized
that it was
part of a much larger pattern
in our society at the moment,which is that so many
of these problems, issues,
controversies we deal with
have a common root–
which is they involve
two people meeting and trying to communicate
and failing. And that seemed
to me a very modern
kind of problem. And so I wanted
to ask the question, why are we having such
difficulty talking to strangers and how can we make it better? I was actually wondering
if you could speak a little bit more about
the autobiographical impulses that you had behind
writing this book. So, we’re a family
of outsiders who have been in the position
of being strangers – in a number
of different contexts.
– Mm-hmm.You know, my mom is black
and my dad is English.
And we were immigrants– my mom
was an immigrant twice over.
She immigrated first to England
from Jamaica in the ’50s.
When we moved to Canada
when I was a kid,I was conscious of the factthat I didn’t sound
like other people,
and I didn’t dress like them,
and I didn’t look like them. So, I think it’s probably
impossible to have a childhood where you do feel
like an outsider and not think
about these issues. I really enjoy
the beginning of the book, especially
with the interaction between your father
and a stranger. And I was just wondering
were there any interactions with other strangers
that have influenced
your book in any way? Yes, so I do open the book
with this funny story of my dad staying
at this fancy hotel and having this long
conversation with someone– my father, who knew nothing
about popular culture. I asked about it afterwards.
He said, “I met this guy. We talked about gardening.” But the whole time,
people were coming up to him and asking him to sign
little pieces of paper. And I realized, like,
it was some massive celebrity, and my father never
figured out who it was. It didn’t occur to him. I spend a lot
of the time talking about how useful are people’s facial
expressions and demeanor in understanding
what’s going on inside their heart,
what their emotions are. The answer is
they’re not very useful. You know,
the case of Amanda Knox, to which I devote a chapter,
is a textbook example of this.You know, she was
the young American student
who goes to Italy.
Her roommate gets
brutally murdered.
And the cops in Italy
and the tabloid pressthink she did it, and she
could not be more innocent.
And the reason, the sole reason
why they think– Was just how– yeah.
Her facial expressions. Gladwell:
She doesn’t behave the way
they expect her to behave.
But how do you spot
someone who’s lying? – Mm.
– Well, I don’t think you can. This has been something
that psychologists
have been studying for years and years and years, and the overwhelming
conclusion is that almost all of us
are barely better at chance
at spotting lies. We get misled
by facial expressions. We think we know
what lying looks like,
and we don’t. And also because
we’re inclined to believe
what people say. Hi, my name is Derek Muller. I make a YouTube channel
called Veritasium,which is all about science
and the search for truth.
Oh, no! And I’m really passionate about getting
to the bottom of things. In your book, you talk about
how judges aren’t very good at actually picking
who should get bail and that an algorithm
would do, say, 25% better. Do you think
that we might move
to a system one day where there are no judges,
and instead bail is
algorithmically designed? I think it’s a bad idea.
So, you never want to
be in a situation where you’ve dehumanized
the criminal justice system. Well, see, this is
the part I find strange. In all of these arguments,
you know, you say we can show
that the machine is better, – but you don’t the machine?
– I want the machine. What is important to me
is that when someone is told whether they are going to
go free or be put behind bars, which is one of
the most consequential acts that any state does
towards one of its citizens. It is the most– I mean,
other than take your life, that cannot come
from a machine. I am always struck by
how often my first impressions about people are wrong. So I have one example of this. I do a podcast now called
“Revisionist History.” Four years ago
when we started, I hired a producer named Mia,
and Mia said– um, and I now realize that these guys
might actually–
but it’s fine. – This is totally–
– They’re gonna watch this. Gladwell:
Mia said, “I want to
bring my friend Julia
to be your editor.”So I meet Julia, and I think,“I don’t want Julia
to be my editor.” And she would say stuff,
and I would, like, “I don’t understand, like,
what Julia is doing here.” She and I were so different.
We don’t see eye to eye. Her sensibility is totally
different from mine. She’s, like, super crunchy
Brooklyn radical. I’m like a, you know–
I’m a Canadian. I’m, like, not–
so, a year it went on, where I was like, “Eh, Julia.”
I didn’t know her very well. The second year, I would– I started to listen
to what she had to say, and I was like,
“Actually, she says really, really, really smart things.” The third year,
I was like, “Oh, my God,
Julia’s a genius.” So, the fourth year,
I was like, “I can’t
do it without Julia.” And then we did
an audiobook version
of this book, which is– – It’s amazing.
– It’s really good. It’s bananas. – Julia did that, right?
– What? She’s the genius behind that. So, like, my point is, I encountered her
as a stranger and I was 100% wrong. In the case
of Sandra Bland, the police officer
thinks she’s dangerous. She’s not dangerous.
She’s upset. There is a world of difference
between those two things. That’s my biggest fear,
because I’m 20 years old. I don’t have my license yet, and the Sandra Bland case
is actually one of the reasons. And, like, for me,
my biggest fear– I’m more afraid
of getting pulled over than I am of actually
getting into an accident. It’s heartbreaking
that we’re at a point in our society where
young people like you are seriously wondering whether
they should get a license out of a fear of interactions
with law enforcement. I mean, it is–
can we really be at
that position in 2019? – That’s crazy.
– I know. Like, my dad,
he had the talk with me. “If you ever get pulled over,
this is what you do,” right? What did he tell you?
What did he say? He basically said– he’s like, “You comply. You act like
you just won the lottery. You’re the happiest person. You love that
he pulled you over.” And I’m like,
“Okay, I guess so.” And he said
the reason you do this is because as long
as you’re complying,
they can’t– they’re not gonna be
suspicious of anything. My name is Nai’a. I’m 20 years old, and I have a YouTube channel called Naya Reads And Smiles. Today I’m going to be doing
a huge unboxing. I literally have a stack
of books up to here. I love books.
It’s my whole life. Your favorite book? – Of all time?
– Yeah. Yeah. – How can there be one book?
– You can choose a genre. I have a thousand books
in my library. More than that. How about
“The Spy Who Came In
From The Cold” – by John le Carré?
– Favorite place to read? I have a little house
in upstate New York
where I go on weekends. And I have a little nook
and I read in the nook. – Kind of just get away
from the world.
– Yeah. – Favorite place to write?
– There’s a coffee shop
in my neighborhood where I spend an inordinate
amount of time. Do they know you?
Like, they know order
and everything? They know–
they know everything. They’re sick of me, in fact. How do you think
police methods
can be improved? The police need
to use their authority – and their power
strategically.
– Right. The same kind of tactics
that might make perfect sense in a very, very,
very high crime neighborhood make no sense whatsoever
in the rest of the city. I remember as a kid
in small-town Canada, being pulled over and–
by a cop. First of all, I knew him.
I’d met him many times. – I was friends with his son.
– Oh. He went to our church. He was friends with my parents and he lived down the street. Like, I grew up
in a very small town. But, like, there’s no way
that encounter goes awry. Like, first of all,
I know if I do anything wrong,
he’s gonna call my mom. Right? And secondly,
I’ve met– I know– he’s a big gruff guy,
but I’ve known him for years and years and years. And he says to me, “Malcolm”–
First thing, “Malcolm.” He knows my name, right?
“What are you doing? You were going, like,
60 miles,” you know? – And it was fine, like–
– You’re not afraid he’s gonna
pull a gun on you ever. – He’s not gonna
pull a gun on me.
– Right. He knows– and so
in the case of Sandra Bland, what would’ve happened had
she been familiar to the cop? The whole conversation
proceeds differently. He– you know,
could’ve gone awry, but he probably says,
“Oh, Sandy!I haven’t seen you in years.You realize
what you just did?”
And she would, like, “Brian”–
and she probably has–
she would’ve had some memory
of this guy.
Maybe he was, like,
a bit of a jerk and–
or maybe he was a nice guy,or maybe they went out
on a date. I mean, I don’t know. The point is they have
another way to interact, because the problem they have
is that he has all the power. – Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.
– He has a gun. He’s standing up,
she’s sitting down. He’s local,
she’s from out of town. I mean, you can go on
with all these ways in which there are barriers to them having
a proper communication. This is the issue
with strangers, with being an outsider,
as she is in that moment, is you don’t have easy ways of relating to someone
in a position of authority. And so I spend a long time
in the book talking about in the light of something
like Sandra Bland, how ought the police
behave differently? And I think you have
an obligation to rethink law enforcement strategies
once you understand that a police officer
cannot pull over somebody who he has never met and understand who she is and what her motivations are
in 30 seconds. It just– it cannot be done, and the opportunity
for error is so large that we have to
do something about it. One of the examples in
the book that I really like was the case study
of the “Friends” fallacy, because I come from
a background in theater where we 100% believe that we could read people
through transparency, that we could look at you
and we have our gut feelings, and there’s lots of talk
about your body and how you feel pulled
towards other actors and all
of these other things, and that you’re, you know,
going for that kind
of communication. But I wondered
if you could explain
a little bit for people who haven’t read the book yet
what the “Friends” fallacy is – and why you chose “Friends.”
– Yeah.So, “Friends” is interesting.If you ask someonewho’s just seen
an episode of “Friends”
to describe what happened,
they can’t do it. So many things happen.
It’s, like, unbelievable. You’d have to, like, get a–
you know, a flowchart, and, like,
with “Monica goes in
this direction and then this happens.” And you’re going, like,
a million different direct– It’s, like, so complicated,
but at the same time, no one has ever watched
an episode of “Friends” and then said,
“Uh, they lost me, like,
halfway through it.” – Right.
– Never happens, right? So why is it that this show with this insanely
complicated plot is nonetheless
in fact so easy to follow that you can
turn the sound off
and follow it. And the answer is
the actors on “Friends”are emotionally transparent.Every single emotion
they feel is perfectly represented
on their face. And I proved this because
I went and I got FACS.And FACS is
this academic system
developed by psychologists
that allows you to code
someone’s facial expressions.So I find this woman Jennifer, teaches up in New Hampshire, I send Jennifer a clip of two minutes
of a “Friends” episode. And I say,
“Go through the episode and code everyone’s
facial expressions, and let’s figure out
whether they match the emotion they’re feeling.” And the answer is they match
perfectly every time. When Phoebe is surprised,
her eyes go wide,her jaw drops,
and her eyebrows shoot up.
When Ross is perplexed,
as Ross often is,
his face looks like someone
who’s perplexed.
When Joey looks dumb,
Joey looks dumb.Like, there’s no ambiguity.And so I think what happens is that we have
an expectation that’s, “Oh, that’s the way
the world works.” – Right.
– And that if you look at me and you look unhappy,
it means you’re unhappy. But in fact, no. Normal human beings
don’t do that. Not even remotely. If I were to shock you
right now by doing some outrageous thing, you might think that
your face would show shock. There’s a very,
very good chance that your face would show
no shock at all. Your jaw would not drop.
Your eyes would not go wide. You would not gasp. Your eyebrows
would not shoot up. You might just look at me
like you’re looking at me now. – Yeah. Mm-hmm.
– But you would feel
shocked, right? So, there are so many cases
of people misreading strangers because they invest
so much significance in what they’re gathering
from body language. And it’s– it means nothing. Hi, I’m Danielle Bainbridge,
and I’m the host and primary writer
of “Origin Of Everything,”which is a PBS Digital Studios
original series
that talks about
underrepresented and undertold history that makes up
our collective narrative. I’m so glad to be here
discussing your new book
“Talking To Strangers,” and I’m wondering
if you could just read
the last line for me. Absolutely. So, I’m wondering
if you could–
you know, last lines, they have so much gravitas,
so much importance, and it’s so challenging
to figure out where to land. And you begin the book
with Sandra Bland and you end
the book with Sandra Bland, so I wonder, this final line,
what does it mean to you in the larger scope
of the argument? That final line
is an attempt to capture part of what is tragic
and heartbreaking about Sandra Bland’s story, which is that
she’s a young black woman who is pulled over
by a police officer
for no reason. She is arrested on
the flimsiest of pretexts. She is humiliated,
and then she commits suicide
in her cell in despair, and in the end they blame her. After all of that, she’s dead and buried
in the ground,
it’s a year later, and they’re like,
“Yeah, she just didn’t like
police officers.” And a lot of your analysis
of Sandra Bland and of her case was that the escalation
was not necessary, that there was a way that
they could’ve interacted, that they could’ve talked
across the stranger divide without necessarily having
these high stakes encounters that end in violence
or end in suicide. You mention in other books
that you’ve written that when you grew
your hair longer, you were also stopped
by police officers
more frequently. I wonder if you could
speak to us a little bit about what those
interactions were like. Yeah, I mean, I had a little– there was a time when my– in the kind of ’90s,
late ’90s, when my afro was– – Bainbridge:
It was the moment for it.
That was the moment.And I went from havingvery short hair
to having a lot of hair,
and noticed instantly
that the way in which
I was perceived by people in positions
of authority was different. Good Lord,
I grow my hair out,
and all of a sudden that first impression
of someone looking at me
is causing them to treat me in a profoundly different way
than I was before. I’m getting pulled out of
the security line at airports. Once I was– these two–
three cops pulled me over because they thought
I resembled a rapist that had been running
around my neighborhood. You know, it’s, like, crazy. When my hair was short,
none of that happened. So just literally
three inches of fro turned me from friend to foe. So, it’s, like,
that was kind of a reminder of just how crucial these–
these impressions are. It seems like
we’ve gotten to a place where paranoia
and hypervigilance is the only emotional
interaction we can have when we’re encountering someone
who’s in law enforcement, or that’s sort of
the default training
that they’re given, which is approach someone
with the suspicion of what the worst
thing possible
they could be doing is. So they’re not part
of the community. They’re automatically
an outsider. They’re automatically
not one of us. I wonder
if there are any lessons
that we can learn about the political sphere
where we cast someone aside and think of them as not
part of the community, not one of us, not someone
who should be trusted? I think it’s a really,
really good question. All of us have
multiple identities, multiple ways in which
we describe ourselves, multiple communities
that we belong to, multiple ways we have
of representing ourselves
in the world, and I think we run into trouble
when that list gets too short. – Mm-hmm.
– So, one of the– people my age love
ragging on people your age. – Mm-hmm.
– And one of the things that– the mistakes
people my age make is to get all worked up
about, you know, millennial identity politics
and things like that. I kind of really love
identity politics because to my mind what it is
is people saying the ways in which
you have categorized me
are insufficient. I have other dimensions. You can understand me
according to my gender. You can understand me according
to my cultural background, according to my interests,
according to my– I mean, I could go on
and on and on. According to where I’m from. And that is super helpful. What is dangerous
is where I look at you and I only see your skin color. Or I look at you
and I only see the fact the fact that
you’re not Caucasian. And I think that’s the–
the danger we’re running in now is we’re looking at people
and we’re only seeing
their political affiliation. And, you know, even the most
die-hard socialist on one hand or Trump supporter on another,
that is only one of– one identity
of multiple identities. And if you talk to them
and listen to them, you might discover that on– of their seven
available identities, you see eye to eye
to them on five. To take it back
to Sandra Bland, all Brian Encinia sees is how she’s black,
she’s from out of state, – she’s driving
a Hyundai, right?
– Mm-hmm. Like, what’s she doing here? That’s his– as opposed to
saying, you know, those– where she’s from
and her race and her gender are just three–
she has five other things that they may be able to see eye to eye on. So, that’s what
I would think is the issue. Were there, like,
any other cases, like,
in the original version that didn’t make it to,
like, the final version
of this book that you just took out
or put more back in? So, I have a bunch
of spy stories in the book. – That’s my favorite.
– And I have huge– I have a huge soft spot
for spy stories. And there was a point
early in the book where it was, like,
half spy stories. And then I realized,
“You know, it’s quite
possible, Malcolm, that the rest of the world
is not as enthusiastic for spy stories as you are.” So, I took a lot of them out. But they were all–
and they were all the same. The thing about spy stories
is that they’re all about the spy gets away
with spying for years. No one– and it’s not
because they’re great spies. It’s because everyone else
can’t see it, right? They don’t understand
the stranger. And so, after, like,
the fourth one, I was like, “You know what?
I think I’ve made my point.” So I cut myself back a great–
it made me very sad, – but I cut it back
to two stories.
– I wish you’d kept it in. You should do
an extended edition,
one of spy stories. Well, I have in the–
you know, in the book, in the end notes,
I think I put in one of my lost spy stories. My name is Ellias from the channel Ellias. I’m 24 years old
and currently in university. My last year.
Fingers crossed. Today I wanted to talk
about some of my favorite and most anticipated
releases of 2019. When I got the e-mail
inviting me, I was like,
“This is fake.” It was, like, almost like
a dream come true. So, hi. Here I am today. You know, I’m 24 years old.
It’s my last year
at the university. I was just wondering
if you had any advice for people around my age
coming out of college and going to, like,
the real adult world and getting a job
and everything like that. Anyone coming out of college is about to go into
a series of alien settings– work for companies,
organizations, – where you may know no one.
– Yeah, it’s scary. Where you will be judged
and where you have
to judge others, right? And what I would say, I guess,
based on this book, is that in all of those
novel encounters, reserve judgment. Don’t come home
after the first week and say,
“I hate my boss.” You don’t know whether
you hate your boss, right? – Yeah.
– So, coming to an understanding
of a stranger is something that is
at best imperfect
and takes time. You write in the book
that you’re an optimist. Am I? Well,
I’m a little bit of both. Didn’t you write that
in the book? Uh, I’m optimistic– I’m always optimistic
we can get better, but then we’re really bad. Like, we are, when we’re confronted
with people we don’t know, epically bad
at making sense of them. And, you know,
once you acknowledge that fact, I think it changes
the way you behave. You know,
the last part of the book when I’m spending all that time
with the criminologists and talking
about policing strategies, it was only after, I think,
those conversations when I realized,
wait a minute, there’s a whole school
of thinking in the law enforcement world that is obsessed
with what can go wrong
in a stranger encounter and is trying to fix it
and no one’s listening to them. That made me realize,
“Okay, this is a book.” After someone reads your book, what do you want them
to walk away with? What should they think
about talking to strangers? I want them to learn
to second-guess themselves. I want them to slow down
and to consider the possibility when they encounter a stranger
that they may be wrong in how they make sense
of that stranger. Fantastic. Well, thank you for taking
time out of your day to come talk to us
four strangers. I found it really fascinating. – Really enjoyed the book.
– My pleasure. – Thank you so much.
– Thanks, guys. We’re the college brochure. – We are the college brochure.
– We’re the college brochure. ( laughing )( music playing )

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