THE BLOG
02/08/2014 10:53 pm ET Updated Apr 10, 2014

I Don't Agree With the Thesis in Malcolm Gladwell's Latest Book

I've had read and enjoyed all of Malcolm Gladwell's books, so I was really looking forward to his newest one, David and Goliath. After reading it, however, I am forced to disagree with his main thesis that advantages often turn out to be disadvantages, and vice versa.

"Advantageous" events can't turn out to be "disadvantageous" and vice versa, because events never have an inherent meaning to begin with.

It's not that what is true turns out not to be true; what we think is true is just a meaning that exists only in our minds. It never was inherently true to begin with.

Why are so many people confused about this issue?

The misconception Gladwell makes in his book is a common one and arises because people think events have inherent meanings. They don't.

As I've explained in a number of earlier posts, events have no inherent meaning. But we think they do because we unconsciously and automatically give meaning to most events and then think the meaning is inherent in the event. As a result, we often give an event a meaning that makes it disadvantageous to us. Then later on something changes, and we re-label the original event as advantageous.

In fact, the event was neither disadvantageous to begin with, nor did it turn out to be advantageous; both are meanings we ascribe to events. Neither are meanings inherent in events.

Is dyslexia really a disadvantage to be overcome?

Gladwell tells stories about people with dyslexia, which is characterized by difficulty with learning to read fluently and with accurate comprehension despite normal intelligence. He uses dyslexia as an example of something that is inherently disadvantageous to someone, who then rises above his disability to achieve success in some field. He would claim such a person turned a disadvantage into an advantage.

I disagree. Such a person used something that many people call a disadvantage in such a way one could then call the original "disadvantage an "advantage." I contend the original situation wasn't a disadvantage to begin with and therefore couldn't turn into an advantage.

Why does this matter? Because many people are unable or even unwilling to turn a "bad" situation into a "good" situation. Once they have become convinced they have a real disadvantage, they live at the effect of it, unable to overcome it.

An alternative way of dealing with seemingly disadvantageous events

Many people attribute their lack of success in various areas of life to their "disadvantages." Instead of telling people that it is possible to overcome their "disadvantages" and achieve their goals by hard work, I think more people would achieve their goals if they didn't think that they had disadvantages to begin with.

To use Gladwell's example, dyslexia might make it difficult to do well in a conventional school setting, but it doesn't necessarily make it difficult to be successful in the arts or even creative in a business environment. So instead of telling a child with dyslexia that if he works hard he can overcome his "problem," I'd rather tell him that he might have a more difficult time while he is in school, but that he could do very well in the arts, and that he could be a very innovative businessperson.

Do you get the difference? The difference could dramatically affect your what you achieve in life and your daily experience of life.

A possible confusion

When reading an early version of this blog, my wife, Shelly, commented: "I'm not sure I agree. Wouldn't being wealthy be an advantage because you would be able to hire tutors to help your child get better SAT scores?" But that assumes better SAT scores are an advantage because it helps you get into a "better" school. But that assumes that getting into a better school is an advantage because it will get you a better job, better connections, etc. But that assumes that a better job and better connections are an advantage because you probably will make more money. But that assumes that having more money is an advantage because it will make you happier.

And this goes on forever. We say an event is an advantage because of what it provides us with vis à vis another situation or vis à vis someone else. But that always assumes that what it provides us with is better, which again is assigning meaning to an event rather than discovering meaning in an event.

No matter how hard you look, you will never find meaning in reality. It is always in your mind.

What's the lesson here for everyone?

Because no event has an inherent meaning, you should get that the meaning you give any event -- whether it's positive or negative -- is never "the truth." The meaning exists only in your mind, not "in" the event.

Instead of trying to cope with or deal effectively with something that isn't really true to begin with, you will always be better off making a clear distinction between the event and the meaning -- which will result in the meaning dissolving -- thereby allowing you to view the event as it really is: neutral without any meaning.

Then deal with the event as best you can -- not thinking you have a disadvantage you have to overcome or an advantage that will make things easier for you.

You will always be better off dealing with reality as it really is than with a meaning that exists only in your mind that you think it reality.

Thanks for reading my blog. Please post your questions or comments about Gladwell's thesis and my critique of it. Your comments will add value for thousands of readers. I read them all and respond to as many as I can.

Morty Lefkoe is the creator of The Lefkoe Method, a series of processes that improve the quality of people's lives. One revolutionary process, the Lefkoe Belief Process, permanently eliminates limiting beliefs. To actually try that process, go to http://recreateyourlife.com/free. To read more of his posts, visit his blog at http://mortylefkoe.com

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