Transcript for Malcolm Gladwell's 'Talking to Strangers' explains jumping to conclusions
What made you -- what compelled you -- don't answer that -- to write this? It was the Sandra bland case. It was -- we had that wave of incidence involving African-Americans and police a couple years ago starting with Michael Brown and Ferguson, but for some reason that one, I could not get it out of my head. Tell them what it was. A young black woman was coming from a job interview in Texas in the middle of the day. She gets pulled over by a police officer for no particular good reason. She didn't use her turn signal. They get into an argument. He ends up dragging her out of the car and then she's dead three days later in her cell because she committed suicide. It was so heartbreaking and the whole thing was captured on Audio and video, yeah. Normally in this cases there's always a dispute about what exactly happened. There was no dispute. We knew exactly and you could watch the conversation go off the rails. I thought, you know, this is such a powerful symbol of what's happening right now in this country which is so many of the disputes we have are about strangers who try to communicate and something goes terribly awry. They don't understand each other. They jump to conclusions about each other and that's where the book begins. So you don't mention race in the book at all. No. Which is fascinating. Do you think race played a part in the Sandra bland incident? Absolutely. How could it not, right? If she is a 75-year-old white lady driving a Mercedes, that doesn't happen. But I -- I've grown a little bit. I think it's really useful, particularly when we deal with these intractable problems, when we talk about race first, what it allows us to do is to not do anything. Right. You say, oh, the cops are racist and you shrug and you go on with your life and nothing ever gets fixed and it happens again. I wanted to say, you know what, I don't think that's productive. Let's take a step back and say is there a different and more sophisticated and deeper way of understanding what happened there as opposed to just saying -- shrugging and saying it's another bad cop. I love the book because it makes you think about how you -- how you read people in your life and you use Amanda Knox as a perfect example of that whose roommate was killed of course. When she first came out and spoke you say transparency played a huge role but also her emotion or look thereof. Speak to that. One of the things in the book I try to figure out is what are the strategies that lead us astray when talking to strangers. There's something called transparency, the idea that people's emotions, how they feel inside, is always reliably represented on their face, right? So if you watch -- I had -- I took an episodes of "Friends" and I had a psychologist who's an expert in facial trends go through and say when Joey is angry does his face look angry, always. If you watch a lot of TV and actors, you come to the belief that when someone feels something, their face is a reliable guide. That's not the way the real world is. That's right. What happens with Amanda Knox is, she's a highly intelligent, very young, from another culture, who goes through a traumatic experience -- In Italy. In Italy, where her roommate is murdered and she does not react the way Italians expect someone whose roommate is murdered is supposed to react and because of that they think she's guilty. By the way, that's an extreme example that we all talked about. This happens every day in this country over and over again that we jump to conclusions about people. Maybe it was on her to start to act a different way. She's in Italy for all that time. Maybe observe how the Italians do it and play their game so you don't have to be in jail for four years. She's smart. She's really thoughtful on this now. She had only been there for a couple weeks when this happened. Her Italian was still real poor. It's an interesting case study of how we jump to conclusions about people. One of the points that you
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