The social human species evolved to default to truth when encountering each other. That works well more than it doesn’t but in complex society it results in many unintended consequences.
That’s the heart of Talking with Strangers, the 2019 book by journalist-public intellectual Malcolm Gladwell. That year, I saw Gladwell speak about his research informing the book. Though I got a copy of the book then, I only just got around to reading it.
Like many others, I enjoy Gladwell and admire the journey he’s taken as journalist, extending into longform narrative nonfiction to push forward our understanding of the world. Below I share a few short notes for myself in the future.
When someone is boring me, at a party or in line in the post office, I ask questions.
Now to be fair, I almost always ask questions. Questions are wonderful, provided that there are answers or at least good conversation to be had. Questions are one of the big reasons I do what I do.
It occurred to me recently, though, that that might be novel, at least for some.
That the best way to improve upon a conversation that isn’t much interesting you is to ask questions. That’s how you can direct that conversation and make it into something more than what it would be otherwise.
If you’re talking to a guy who sells fences, you might be bored. But if you talk to him about how different kinds of fence are made, distributed and costs kept low, it could get interesting. Without enough detail, anything can become interesting.
Like spaghetti sauce, as author Malcolm Gladwell showed with a great TED talk back in 2004.