Malcom Gladwell, author of Blink, Tipping Point, The Outliers, and most recently David and Goliath, spoke at DeAnza College as part of their Celebrity Forum Speaker series. I was super excited to attend with my friend Jeff as Gladwell’s books have made a huge impression on me with his perspectives on human behavior. I couldn’t wait to hear what Malcolm had to say LIVE! If you’ve been to the DeAnza College campus on Stevens Creek Boulevard, you know that the Flint Center is not only beautiful but also huge! It was a great experience to participate in, as this venue has apparently been going on since 1968 with some of their most notable past speakers being Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, and Truman Capote. And one that I would most loved to have seen:  Bob Hope!

Malcom was funny, sharp and pointed, as he chose to share a story about a woman named Alva for most of the hour and 45 minutes he spoke. Malcolm revealed the most amazing details about this woman who many of us don’t know as being THE power behind a woman’s right to vote.  In true Malcolm style, what you are about to know of Alva and her oh-so-rich and highly publicized life can arguably be more potent and meaningful than her influence on the amendment itself! Malcolm started out his speech by pointedly saying that this was a story worthy of sharing about a woman who is really an unsung hero. 

I wish that I could spend the time and the words here to spell out the entire story of what Malcolm so painstakingly came to know through his extensive and exhaustive research on Alva’s life. It isn’t the point of my essay, but here is what is: what seemed to be vindictive, vulgar, narcissistic, and down-right mean, was actually protection, nurturance, selflessness, and heroism, as Alva gave up her life so others might have theirs. Malcolm writes for the New Yorker (it’s how he started his career) so his storytelling is as enthralling as his writing. He captures your imagination convincing you of a point of view only to then give you a much broader one. I loved it, as I saw how we all can benefit from learning that our outlook on something – even in “knowing” the facts – can alter and shift when we add in other elements that truly affect behavior. Malcolm noted that Alva was characterized as a rebel. But was she really? Is that what we label someone when they don’t fit our cosmetic form of what is socially or morally acceptable (even when we don’t know the whole story?) It’s my style to ponder observations like these as I believe we grow when we open up and challenge ourselves to truly look at many differing perspectives; and isn’t that the backbone of how we can really come to love one another

Malcolm’s story was wonderful, but what was even more excellent was the numerous questions he fielded from the audience and how he responded. It was the real Malcolm Gladwell showing up.  He was so present to his answers (having to stop and think, take a sip of water, hold himself accountable to a comment he just made) that you experienced HIS perspectives and even some that could be labeled as rebellious! No script here, just raw Malcolm as we were feeling the devotion of his life to unusual insights on out-of-the-norm topics. And his views have become so important that he’s been named by Time Magazine as one of the Top 100 most influential people!

I’m not sure Malcolm meant to expand on rebellious behavior because he appeared to end his story and enlist in the audience questions – but he is so alive in rapid thought and insight that I bet the vibe of Alva’s life (which he had just spent an hour or more reliving) spurred on his sharing of research that’s been done recently in NYU…research on what they now know about what causes a person/group/nation to rebel.

Malcolm stated that rebellious behavior was thought to arise from more of a cost/benefit analysis, meaning if the benefit or reward of rebelling was higher than the cost of the action, then rebellious nature ensued. But over the years, if you look at certain examples of rebel action (and there are many), the cost far outweighed the benefit…but people still rebelled! So now the research shows this: rebellious behavior occurs when three things are in jeopardy: 1.) you are not being respected 2.) you don’t trust the process or the person and 3.) you are not being treated fairly. Going back to Alva’s story, Malcolm had us nodding to each of these three points with regard to her own life and how her personal experience of rebellion became the very skills needed to “rebel” for the women’s right to vote. Women were not being treated fairly, women were not respected in the same way as men, and women didn’t trust the system or the men behind it.

I’ve thought about this a lot as it relates to our own practice. Do you recall having days when you wanted to rebel:  giving up in holding a posture; sitting out on a pose; being upset with the person in front of you for losing their balance; silently wanting to tell the teacher to stop talking; wanting to run out and get more water; raising your hand to ask the teacher to turn on the fans? I know there are more of “these” notions (and kind of fun to rally off) BUT, as compelling as it sounded to you at that time, you didn’t rebel and instead stayed the course! If Malcolm’s research is true then we could say that: 1.) you are being respected and that includes respecting yourself 2.) you trust the process and 3.) you feel that you are being treated fairly. If I can carry this further Mr. Gladwell, then born from this is self-control. Our practice requires a lot of that skill but it doesn’t really flex without some muscle behind it, and the muscle here is being in an atmosphere of respect, trustworthiness, and fairness! Self-control helps to create integrity: (I’m not going to kick out in standing head to knee because my knee is bent), and Integrity assists in being authentic and authenticity leads to living a very satisfying life called YOURS! 

Malcolm had some oh-so-cute things to share about his family, especially his father and his life growing up. He recalls playing board games with his family and being so frustrated using the instructions to try and learn how to play the game. The directions and drawn out diagrams lacked the most important piece – the POINT of the game.This might have been an off the cuff remark seated in the story he was embellishing about his dad, but I was hung up on this point and didn’t really pay attention to the point he had in mind. What’s the point? Isn’t this so simple and so often missed? I went about my next few days asking myself that question throughout the day in just about everything I did:  what’s the point? It was amazing how powerful and purposeful my day felt as a result of being able to answer or not answer that question. Try it! One thing you’ll find for sure members, is that your practice, like being fair, being respected and trustworthy, always carries a point. The point of the pose, the point of no water, the point of the environment, the point of the sequence, the point of the teaching style, the point of the breath! Perhaps one day Malcolm can come to a yoga class such as ours and do a study of his kind that mirrors all other studies with a book outlining his impressive revelations coming from story after story happening in our hot room. He’d have to elevate his analysis as so much of the findings that he wonderfully documents is already found and lived in your very practice. So, here’s my point – if Malcom Gladwell is considered Time Magazine’s top 100 most influential people, well then, so are you!