How well do we read other people?
I've recently completed Malcolm Gladwell's latest book Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't Know, and it has been eye-opening. Gladwell, does a good job of forcing us to rethink what we think we know about things... in this case, it is our ability to judge the intentions, character, and trustworthiness of people we don't know. The bottom line is that we are not as good as we think we are. By the end of the book, I walked away with three thoughts:
- We default to truth: One of Gladwell's major themes is that in order to live in a civilized society, that we need to trust one another. Thus, when talking to people we don't know, we default to believing them. This is incredibly helpful when it comes to interacting with people on a daily basis and helps us to more easily have relationships with one another, but it significantly hurts our ability to determine when someone is not being honest with us. Personally, given the choice between walking through life being generally trusting of others or expecting the worst of others, I choose being generally trusting.
- Looking Someone "in the eye" isn't as helpful as we like to think: This was fascinating to me. We have been trained through the years to think that we can read people's emotions and reactions better than we can. This is due, in part, to our television habits. Actors, whether in movies, sitcoms, or dramas are trained to be overly expressive in their emotional responses so that we could identify what they are feeling without listening to the audio. Genuine emotions are nowhere near as obvious. With our default to the truth, we also tend to default to people being transparent... and it is rare that we find a stranger who is truly transparent.
- These aren't bad things: It can be easy to take the first two thoughts and want to become skeptical, jaded, and suspect everyone. Doing this, however, is harmful to our ability to live in community with one another and engage in meaningful relationships with others. These defaults are necessary for our ability to engage in healthy relationships with others.
One bonus take away for me was a confirmation on why Chemistry's assessment process is so helpful in our search process. We've designed a series of assessments that help us determine whether a candidate is a good theological and cultural match and possesses the skills and personality needed to thrive in a church's unique context. We use this tool early in the process so that we can develop an understanding of their tendencies, in order to ensure that our defaults don't get in the way of us making the right match with a church.
If you've read Gladwell's book, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it.