Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Sunday, March 19, 2017

BLINK Sun, 3-19-17

CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter… ©

BLINK                                                            Sun, 3-19-17

I appreciate anyone who can pull together a lot of research on a complicated subject and present it in a way that I can understand. So I appreciate Malcolm Gladwell.

I had understood for a long time what Gladwell presented in The Tipping Point: there comes a time when everything shifts and goes the other way. I was about fifty when all my body parts shifted and began to go the other way, down.

Gladwell did not mention that, however. He talked more about various sorts of communities, and what happens when the weight of violence or civility becomes great enough to cause a neighborhood or business or church, or even a nation, to slide the other way, like when one more little kid gets on the end of the teeter-totter and the big kid on the other end finally goes up into the air.

Blink is just as interesting, but without as clear a result. In Blink, Gladwell presents the finding on how we make quick judgments on small amounts of evidence.

We get just a slice of evidence, the way a person walks [body language] or the way she moves her head and we immediately decide if she means us harm. We don’t examine her under a microscope and study her history and hire a detective before we make the call. We just know, intuitively, what we call gut instinct. We decide in a blink.

The problem is that we often decide incorrectly. We decide that a person is going to shoot us just because he’s black, or cheat us just because he has slick hair, or wants sex just because she has a short skirt. As likely as not, we end up with a racial discrimination complaint from the black man, a penalty from the slick-haired IRS agent, and a restraining order from Calista Flockhart. [On TV she played Ally McBeal, a notoriously short-skirted lawyer. I never saw the show myself, but I heard about it.]

It only takes a blink to be right, but it only takes a blink to be wrong. So what’s the difference?

Experience, says Gladwell. People with a lifetime of experience usually make accurate blink decisions.

Obviously, that’s selective. If I’ve never been in the ocean before and I go snorkeling for the first time, my lifetime of experience as a people listener isn’t going to do me much good. Is that fish coming this way in order to eat me or just because it’s curious? If it were a puffed-up person, I could make a blink judgment, and I’d probably be right. A puffer fish, I’ll make a blink judgment, because I have to, but it’s not as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.

Just having lots of experience, just being old, doesn’t cause us to be right in each blink judgment moment. We sometimes forget that.

We do have wisdom when we’re older that we did not have before, just because we’ve been there, done that. Fads come along in fashion and food and religion and technology and we don’t fall for them. When we were younger we might have jumped on the wave and ridden it, teased up that beehive hairdo or worn that lime-green leisure suit or waved our hands in the air and yelled “Praise the Lord” while listening to Stryper on an 8 track. Now we laugh at the fads and go for simplicity. We wear cargo pants not because they’re cool but because we need lots of pockets for all our pills.

Our wisdom comes not so much from being smarter now but from being stupider then. We’ve made lots of mistakes, and we’re at least smart enough not to make them again. We make the right decision in a blink not because our guts have better instincts than those of younger people but because we’ve read the signs longer.

We’re not better people just because we’re older, not better than when we were younger, not better than those who are younger now. We’re just better Blinkers. But that is one of the payoffs for going through all those years.


I tweet as yooper1721.

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