Do we need to re-think what we see as strength and weakness? Introducing Malcolm Gladwell “David and Goliath”.

By Joy kent. Follow on Twitter: @Joy_ChwaraeTeg.

I go through reading binges – sometimes subject matter, and sometimes authors. I recently revisited an author I first encountered a few years ago when he wrote about how it was easier to solve some issues than we thought. His writing influenced a whole debate around how to tackle homelessness.

For anyone unfamiliar with his work, Malcolm Gladwell is the kind of author described as one of the foremost thinkers of our age, although as with anyone lauded as he often is, it’s easy to find alternative views widely expressed too.

Whatever you think about his conclusions, he has some thought provoking ideas and an engaging writing style.

My recent Malcolm Gladwell fest was prompted by picking up his latest book, “David and Goliath” in the airport. The central argument is that we should reconsider some of our shared wisdom in relation to perceived strengths and weaknesses.

I’m sure anyone reading the book will find an example that resonates; for me it was research that showed that there have been a disproportionately high number of US presidents who lost a parent before the age of 16.

He suggests a correlation between this early trauma and later success, essentially based on the theory that if you get over something unimaginable early in life and come through in your own perception largely unscathed, it can build your resilience.

Essentially it’s the old “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” argument explored in greater detail.

He draws on lots of other research and subject matter to support this central proposition. Whether you’re convinced or not by his arguments or evidence presented, it’s interesting.

Don’t normally “sweat the small stuff”.

I think one of the reasons I’m interested in his arguments is that I’ve been both happy to and at the same time guilty at looking for positives from negatives.

For example, both my parents died in their 50s when I was still young and although it was horrendous, being aware of mortality very early on has had its benefits – it means I take very little for granted, don’t normally “sweat the small stuff” and have a very low threshold for doing anything for very long that isn’t fulfilling or rewarding.

Although this last one I think can be a bit annoying for others, it does mean that I’m unlikely to look back and wish I’d done something else with my life.

Look for someone’s strength instead of weakness.

I see this ability to look for the good in a bad situation as a positive thing ( I would though, wouldn’t I? ) but I also sometimes feel that it can be misinterpreted as unrealistic or worse, underestimating how awful the situation or experience might be.

No one today doubts the seriousness of the impact of the austerity agenda on people but I think what the book reminds me is that it’s the relationship between the difficulties we face and our response to them that shapes our future – or the futures of others we care about.

Feeling sorry or angry for ourselves or others doesn’t change anything – choosing the right lessons from a dreadful situation can.