Malcolm Gladwell has a new book out. I haven’t read it yet, but I hope to soon. Gladwell is a Canadian journalist, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine and best-selling authour of several books, including Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers. His books and articles often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences and make frequent and extended use of academic work.
His latest book is entitled David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. It intrigues me not only because it makes use of a well known Biblical story to talk about a common social phenomenon, but because I think it will have something useful to teach us about human nature.
A 15-minute video of Gladwell giving a TED talk about his reading of the David and Goliath story can be found on YouTube. In that video, he makes the point that Goliath may not have been the great warrior and overwhelming opponent that we assume him to be and David may not have been the quintessential underdog. By placing David and Goliath on a more level playing field, Gladwell makes the point that things are not always as they seem or as they have been reported to be. Sometimes there is much more going on than meets the eye (or ear).
Is making Goliath less of a threat and David more of one counter-productive to his thesis about the true nature of underdogs? Does exposing Goliath’s potential weakness and David’s potential advantage work against the point of this book? Perhaps. But, does it take away from a classic understanding of this story as the value of the underdog? Absolutely not.
Regardless of how cunning David may have been or how Goliath’s extraordinary size may have worked against him, the story is still a good one and has something valuable to teach us about standing up to improbable odds or not letting someone else’s assessment stop us from doing amazing things. Sometimes with stories like this, it is less about what is known or recorded and more about what the story has come to be about.
Story, Biblical or otherwise, is powerful and can take on a life of its own. There are stories about events in my family that, as time goes on, have come to have greater meaning and significance than they did at the time. Sometimes it’s the opposite. We understand our history and ourselves better when we reflect on our life and stories through re-telling them. Their significance can even change over time as life and the world around us changes. That’s true of all stories.
I welcome Malcolm Gladwell’s insights into the story of David and Goliath. He’s not the one I usually go to for Biblical interpretation, but, he may have something to teach me nevertheless. And when he does, he just goes to prove his own thesis, that things are not always as they seem and some stories always have something to teach us.
Rev. Brian Krushel is the pastor for the North Thompson Pastoral Charge of the United Church of Canada, which includes both the Clearwater United Church and the Church of St Paul in Barriere.