THE MACLEAN'S INTERVIEW

‘WHEN I GREW MY HAIR, THE WAY THE WORLD TREATED ME CHANGED’

MALCOLM GLADWELL January 17 2005
THE MACLEAN'S INTERVIEW

‘WHEN I GREW MY HAIR, THE WAY THE WORLD TREATED ME CHANGED’

MALCOLM GLADWELL January 17 2005

‘WHEN I GREW MY HAIR, THE WAY THE WORLD TREATED ME CHANGED’

THE MACLEAN'S INTERVIEW

Books

MALCOLM GLADWELL

NEW YORKER WRITER Malcolm Gladwell is one of North America’s most influential hipster-intellectuals. He doesn’t reinvent the wheel so much as disassemble it, revealing something essential about its inner workings we’d never noticed before. The Almira, Ont.raised author’s first book, The Tipping Point, about how ideas spread through the culture, is a marketing industry bible. His second effort, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, asks: what can we learn from the thoughts that cross our minds in the blink of an eye?

You’ve co-opted the word “blink” to mean something other than shutting your eyes.

The modern world is built on deliberate,

analytical thinking. Blink is the kind of thinking that goes on in a flash, in the first instant we encounter a person or situation.

What’s so special about such blink moments?

Sometimes we don’t listen to these thoughts when we could have learned from them. Or we do listen without realizing they’re corrupted or prejudiced. When I grew my hair long a few years ago, the way the world treated me changed. I got pulled over by cops who thought I was a rapist. I went from being a law-abiding citizen to a potential criminal by virtue of changing one part of my appearance. It became important to me to understand what goes on in those first two seconds.

You use the example of Tom Hanks to explain how something about a person’s features or mannerisms can inspire instant empathy in people. Do you think the success of politicians can be explained this way?

I suppose Bush really is like Tom Hanks in a certain sense. He’s enormously likeable. People feel comfortable around him, and that’s an extraordinary trait for a politician. Once the decision was made that he was noble and likeable, a lot of important information about him became not relevant.

Do you think Canadians and Americans differ fundamentally in how they think?

I think they’re profoundly and unalterably different. Americans can’t make a distinction between a larger sense of what’s right and their own personal feelings.

And Canadians?

Well, on the subject of gay marriage, Canadians are capable of carrying two antagonistic thoughts in their heads simultaneously: I don’t agree with this on a personal level—but as a citizen I will go along. That little thing— which is essential for a civil society to function properly—appears to be what Americans at the moment are incapable of doing.

Do you keep on top of goings-on here?

I like to monitor when things in the U.S. might get so bad that I’ll want to come home. I find it harder and harder to understand how I can live in a country that’s officially so hostile to my own values and political interests.

Did you have a blink impression of how this interview was going to go?

I’m not intending to flatter you, but all Canadian interviews go better. Maybe it’s a higher level of literacy in the media class or something.

LIANNE GEORGE