TXK Book Club—Talking to Strangers

There seems to be a constant buzz in the air at the end of each year that gives us cause to reflect. When I looked back over 2020, I proudly realized I had become an avid reader. I went from (maybe) one-three books per year to 61 books in 2020. Maybe it was the quarantine, maybe it was AirPods, but I had undoubtedly covered more content than I had in years. I followed a guide I found on Pinterest for the year that suggested a new theme each month, which helped me step way out of my comfort zone. Full disclosure... I am a memoir lover and will read anyone’s memoir, so sci-fi was unchartered territory in more ways than one. The habit of reading and listening to books (thank you, Atomic Habits by James Clear) stuck with me and here we are, three months away from 2022. My goal for the year is 60 books, and I only have 11 to go.

With my newfound love for books and reading, I would like to invite you to join me on this journey. My intention is to inspire each of you to try something new, learn a few things along the way, and think more deeply about the world around us. You won’t love everything I recommend, just like I don’t love everything that is recommended to me. Admittedly though, I have a hard time putting even a boring book down. It could get better, and I want to be there when it does.

As for my inaugural review, I chose Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell. It was my favorite book from 2019, my most recommended book of 2020, and it seems appropriate to share with you all since, more than likely, you and I are strangers. I have been a fan of Gladwell for the past ten years and have read more of his books than any other author and listened to most of the podcasts on his popular show, Revisionist History.

Gladwell is a masterful storyteller who weaves us through different narratives of the past. The result causes the reader to pause and reflect on the dichotomy of what we know versus what we THINK we know and how that can muddle our understanding of the strangers around us.

We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.”  (Gladwell, 2019)

A few of the central figures studied in the book are Cuban Spies, Sandra Bland, Larry Nassar, Amanda Knox, Jerry Sandusky, Adolf Hitler and The Cast of Friends. Gladwell walks us through each of their stories and shows us every angle. For me, it helped to see misunderstandings, and it also brought insight into how the human brain works. Inherently, we judge people based on their body language without understanding their personalities or their background. Take Amanda Knox, for example. Very few people in Italy knew Amanda Knox, but the prosecution formed an entire case and eventually convicted her of murder based on her body language. The murderer’s DNA was all over the house, but Amanda was smiling, kissed her boyfriend and bought new underwear while her house was being investigated, so she must be guilty. No one stopped to consider that she might just be an awkward introvert.

On the flip side, Larry Nassar’s body language was dismissed by the parents of the children he abused because of his authority in medicine. Often, we put people in powerful positions in our trustworthy column because of their titles, and while this sometimes has merit, that is not always the case. Simply put, this book is a case study of judgments and impressions, and we all default to the truth that we think we know.

“We have a default to truth: our operating assumption is that people we are dealing with are honest.” (Gladwell, 2019)

This book forces me to check my own assumptions and the inherent biases I have about strangers. It is my goal to continuously improve and two areas I never want to sleep on are quick judgments and missed red flags. Smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic and a heavy political climate, it would probably do us all a bit of good to take the time to learn how to talk to strangers. Often, the daily snapshots we see through social media fail to give us the entire picture, and we might find with a bit of grace and acceptance, we are all better together.

“The right way to talk to strangers is with caution and humility.” (Gladwell, 2019)

If you haven’t read Talking to Strangers, I recommend it—TEN out of TEN to EVERYONE. 

Thank you for joining me on this journey. It has been my pleasure sharing this recommendation. I would love to keep the conversation going, so let me hear from you! Send your recommendations and comments to txkmagbookclub@gmail.com.


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