Malcolm Gladwell is easily one of my favorite authors. Like, top three, for sure.
He does a fantastic job of taking tons of information and presenting it in bite-sized, understandable pieces. He makes you feel smart, and he gives you information you can use.
I was assigned a few chapters out of Blink a few years ago for a college assignment, and I almost read half the book. Now that I had my hands on my own copy, I was able to read the whole thing before the campus library needed it back from me (4 hours at a time? I mean, really), and I devoured it.
Blink‘s basic premise is that your unconscious brain thinks faster than your conscious brain does, and that sometimes the snap judgements your brain makes subconsciously can be better, more informed decisions than your conscious decisions. He explains that if you spend enough time immersed in a certain subject and become an expert in that subject, then you can usually trust your first impressions.
My favorite thing about the edition of Blink that I read, though, is after the last chapter, Gladwell includes an afterword with a call to action. The last chapter is about the ways our brain backfires on us. He mentions the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, specifically how before the 1980s, there were very few women musicians among their ranks at all. All of this changed with the implementation of literal screened auditions. Each performer would play from behind a screen and would not be seen by the maestros who believed consciously and subconsciously that a man has better lungs for playing the trombone and was therefore the better choice for the Philharmonic. The conductors would only hear the auditions.
With the screened auditions in place, it was not long before the orchestra was about 50-50 male-female.
Sometimes we pack our subconscious full of the wrong information.
Gladwell makes a call in his afterword for a greater use of this understanding that we have of how the brain works. If our brains are pumped full of correct information on a subject, then we need to listen to our guts, because they know better than the brain that consciously decides what answer it wants.
If our brains are pumped full of incorrect information, however, then we need to find ways to block that information out of the decisions we make.
The media portrays Black Americans as criminals, and when it doesn’t do that, it portrays them as people who get shot by white people.
If that’s the information that’s been shoved into my brain, and I’m an armed cop, confronting a Black American, I might end up shooting them, because all I know—or at least all the media wants me to know—is that Blacks are criminals or they are people who get shot by white people.
A trial by jury will send a black man to prison more often than a white man, for the same crime. Divorce court will give custody rights to the mother, even if she has abused the father into leaving.
We have prejudices, and one of the solutions that Gladwell proposes is similar to the screened auditions in Munich. He says that we should have screened courtrooms, where we cannot easily identify the gender, age, or race of the person accused of a crime. If those factors are taken out of our judgement, then we are more likely to look at the facts and the evidence. If we were to try people in court by evidence, without looking at race, gender, or other factors, then we might see greater balance in our prisons.
We can also take action to undo the harm that the media has done to minority groups in our country by learning about and sharing experiences with prominent, helpful, good examples from those groups. If I spend my morning reading speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I’m less likely to associate black people with looting than if I spend my morning watching videos of a bunch of black people looting.
It’s up to us to decide what we fill our subconscious with, to recognize what prejudices may already cloud our judgement, and find ways to block out those prejudices.
Blink has given me some tools to create a real meritocracy. It’s helped me recognize some of my own prejudices. And on top of all of that, it was an enjoyable read.
5/5 Would recommend to all, but especially those interested in psychology, sociology, and social justice.