Malcolm Gladwell tells of the power of forgiveness - New York News

Malcolm Gladwell tells of the power of forgiveness

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By Scott G Winterton, Deseret News. Malcolm Gladwell talks about his new book Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. By Scott G Winterton, Deseret News. Malcolm Gladwell talks about his new book Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013.

By: Eric Schulzke, Deseret News

Malcolm Gladwell was in Salt Lake City Tuesday night, speaking at the inaugural Sam Rich Lecture Series, hosted by the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. Gladwell is the author of several international best sellers, "The Tipping Point," "Blink" and "Outliers." His new book is "David and Goliath," which deals with the surprising powers of underdogs and the way in which opposition and trauma can often produce stronger human beings.

The main event Tuesday was a sold-out lecture at Abravanel Hall, but Gladwell visited with the Deseret News prior to the event. What follows are excerpts from that interview. The complete interview, with video, is at DeseretNews.com.

DN: You have said in the run-up to this book that writing it rekindled your own faith, and you point specifically to the Anabaptist tradition, which features prominently in the book. Could you tell us more about how it touched your faith?

MG: I was raised in a very religious family in a part of Ontario that is one of the strongholds of the Mennonite church. So that was all around me growing up. My family has remained very much in the religious tradition, and I moved away and drifted away. But it's true, doing this book, I had this chapter about this woman, Wilma Derksen, whose daughter was murdered by a sexual predator, and who forgives her daughter's murderer.

And I thought that story was so extraordinary, and what she did was so incredible. Her reason was very simple. The Mennonite tradition takes forgiveness very seriously, and their response to the persecution that they suffered­­ - they were in Russia for many years, where they were profoundly persecuted and subject to some of the same pogroms as the Jews were - their response was that they would always forgive their tormentors and move on with their lives.

And she drew strength from that tradition and from her own faith to do something that I thought was impossible, that for most of us would be impossible. I don't know how anyone can turn their back on that story, on that example of the power of faith.

DN: Did you catch that the courts have overturned the conviction, and there will probably be a new trial?

MG: She emailed me. She said, you know, that the beautiful thing about forgiveness is that her piece of mind is not contingent on the legal system disposing of the case in a way that is fair and just. She has made her peace with herself and with God.

In the book I compare the way she dealt with her tragedy with an almost identical case of a family losing a teenage daughter, where the response of the family was profoundly different, it was to start a crusade in their state to dramatically toughen criminal penalties.

I happen to disagree with that policy, but that's not the real issue. The real issue was the way that that family in California reacted to tragedy was not ultimately successful, in the sense that it did not bring peace and closure to their lives. If you pin your hopes on the way the world out there is going to go about its business, you're taking an enormous risk. The outcome of the courageous act that Wilma Derksen took was that she found some measure of peace in the midst of all of this horror.

DN: The sense in the book is that the pacifism strain in the Mennonite tradition is one thing that really attracts you.

MG: Yeah, it does. The final chapter in the book is about the Huguenots, and their role in France during the Second World War, when they were willing to take the enormous risk of harboring Jews in occupied France. And the Huguenots, of course, do not fight. They are pacifists. They won't tell lies, and they live according to an extraordinarily strict moral code.

Now you could have long arguments about whether pacifism is the correct course, when you are faced with something like the Nazi threat. I don't necessarily take one side or the other. I understand and appreciate and have enormous sympathy for the logic of their position. And they did fight Nazis, but in their own way. Their way of fighting it was to stand up and say to any Jewish refugee in France, "come to our town, and we will treat you as if you are our own brother." And they put their lives on the line for the Jewish people in a way that very few French people actually did.

Pacifism does not mean a reluctance to take on evil. It means, in the best sense, that you take on evil in a different form.

DN: Your book deals a lot with forgiveness but also deals with opposition, especially the emotional and physical trauma that can produce very strong people. Have you thought of this in the context of the problem of evil and the possibility that God might use that kind of opposition for his purposes, to help us grow?

MG: In the book I talk about Dr. Emil Freireich who undertakes this bold experiment in oncology and finds the strength to do that and to defy the opinion of everyone about him. He finds the strength in his own childhood, which was about as bleak and miserable of a childhood you can have.

Without the suffering he underwent as a child, and without the lessons he learned from that suffering, he would tell you that he would never have found the strength that he did to pursue the ideas that resulted in curing childhood leukemia.

Can you look at that and come to the conclusion that there was something providential about what he went through as a child? I think you can. Not everyone will draw that same conclusion, but he comes to the conclusion and I find his arguments pretty convincing. And I think things in the world happen for a reason.

And when you see repeated examples of the extraordinary things that are possible in the face of adversity, it's not hard to draw conclusion that there is a reason we have to fight these fights. This is not a masochistic impulse on the part of the Creator.


Original Post

Copyright 2013 Deseret Digital Media, Inc.

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