Several years ago a series of books were published that drew a lot of criticism and praise. People were astounded at the correlations the authors found between things that on the surface had nothing to do with each other. The authors were called racist and immoral as well as heralded as true thinkers and exceptional economists.
That series was called Freakonomics.
In the book the two authors, who claimed to be nothing more than an economics professor and a New York Times writer, explored the hidden side of everything. What, pray tell, did the authors find hidden connections between?
Well what would you say if I told you there book discussed a relationship between the legalization of abortion and the drop in crime rates since the mid 90’s? Sounds inflammatory and intriguing all at the same time, doesn’t it?
The book also describes a link between the number of babies born via cesarean section and the birth rate of the area. The study found that in areas with declining birth rates, doctors were much more likely to perform cesarean section deliveries, suggesting that when business is slow, doctors try to rig up more expensive procedures.
Sounds horrifying and beguiling, doesn’t it?
The book goes on to make connections like these all over the map. It talks about the art of parenting to the mechanics of cheating, from the inner workings of the Ku Klux Klan to racial discrimination on The Weakest Link. The book explores all of these things and more.
It aims to show you that things aren’t always what they seem; that what you thought you knew you actually don’t. Things that are seemingly bad are actually good.
This book has fascinated me over the last decade. It’s one of those books that I love to re-read and makes me change the way I view the world and people. Recently I found another book that turned my way of thinking on its head and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
You see last weekend I received a devastating phone call; actually I received a bunch of phone calls. Over the course of a few hours five of my best college buddies, whom I had only talked to sporadically over the last decade, called to catch up with me.
Something like that would on the surface be a really positive event, everyone loves catching up with old friends. Except in this instance all of them also had a tragic story to tell me about another one of our college buddies.
It seems my friend Brian, an old college roommate of mine, had passed away unexpectedly. His wife found him in the shower unresponsive two Saturday’s ago.
Brian was only 34 years old. He has a five year old son named Killian who is the spitting image of his dear old dad. He also has another baby on the way. His wife is three months pregnant with their second child.
The story is so tragic I have a hard time just describing it for you. I worry greatly for Brian’s wife Nadine, their son Killian and the new baby who is on the way.
Most people would say that the outlook for this family is not good, that they will undoubtedly face difficulty down the road. Perhaps it’s my glass half full persona or that I want to find the silver lining in things that I am not as sure as others are about the future prospects for Killian and the rest of Brian’s family.
Like I said before a new book has come on the market that has opened my eyes to the world. In the book, David and Goliath, author Malcolm Gladwell say’s we’ve been misled in how we view “disadvantages” in life.
Conventional wisdom tells us that a difficulty is something to be avoided, that it is a setback that leaves you worse off than you would be otherwise. But there is an unusually large number of very prominent religious and political leaders, writers, composers, artists and scientists who have lost parents when they were young, suggesting that difficulties like these often lead to success.
Now I’m not suggesting that Brian’s children are better off without him. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
But what this book made me realize is that not every tragedy means a child or a family is doomed. Difficulties such as losing a parent at a young age or being disabled doesn’t automatically guarantee a life without success.
People with dyslexia, a debilitating reading disability, have grown up to be Albert Einstein, Robin Williams, Thomas Edison, Richard Branson, John Lennon, Agatha Christie, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
While dyslexia is truly a disadvantage it also can cause people to develop better listening and memory skills. This creates advantages that may not have been developed if not for the problem.
And there are other stories of uber successful men and woman who have lost a parent at a young age and gone on to achieve great things in life.
This includes a disproportionately large number of presidents and prime ministers. Perhaps it’s this loss of family leadership that causes children to become leaders in their own household at a much earlier age.
Abraham Lincoln lost his mother when he was 9 years old.
George Washington lost his father by the time he turned 11.
Malcolm X lost his father when he was 6.
Napoleon Bonaparte lost his father when he was 17.
Winston Churchill lost his father when he was 19.
Buddha lost his mother a week after he was born.
Confucius and Mohammed both lost their mother’s as a child.
Pope John Paul II lost his mother when he was 9 and his father when he was 22.
The book does acknowledge that not everyone overcomes difficulties in life. People are still challenged by poverty and other economic challenges. But for every one of those stories there is one about a person ruined by wealth.
Plenty of children of wealthy people have been “ruined by wealth because they lose their ambition, and they lose their pride, and they lose their sense of self-worth.”
In life, people face difficulties. It’s what you do about those hurdles and disabilities that makes the man so to speak. I find this to be true in my own family.
My wife was diagnosed with an eye muscle disorder when she was eight years old. It was so bad that she was held back a grade in school and teachers told her parents that she would be forever plagued with reading, writing and learning difficulties. But my wife and her family did not accept that diagnosis as a pathway to a life less ordinary.
Instead my wife used her eye muscle problem that should have slowed her down and used it to her advantage. Today my wife is a talented journalist. People pay her thousands of dollars to explain in the written word difficult concepts.
Yes, her eye muscle problem slowed her down, but that ultimately worked to her advantage. She has used her disability to view things in a way that not everyone else immediately sees. She not only has overcome the learning disabilities she faced earlier in life, she has succeeded more than anyone ever thought possible.
Her story and the story of so many others show that disadvantages in life are not roadblocks; rather they are challenges for us to overcome.
I think that’s why Malcolm Gladwell named his book after the biblical tale of David and Goliath. David was small, young, inexperienced, had no armor and was not expected to win the fight against the mighty Goliath. Yet he overcame what was a seemingly insurmountable difficulty.
What difficulties in life are holding you back from achieving what you want to achieve? Money? Fear? Job loss? Not enough time? All of these difficulties can be overcome.
You can achieve the highest levels of success if you want. I would never wish what happened to Brian’s family on anyone, but not every tragedy is a roadblock.
How will your story end?