This is part of the series Catalyst 2013.
Malcolm Gladwell’s message today was excellent and full of counterintuitive insight, as always. I’m very appreciative also that he chose to be here. With his new book out this week (David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants), he could have been anywhere in the world today, and he chose to be here, at Catalyst. Thank you, Malcolm Gladwell!
Here are my notes.
Brad Lomenick (preisdent of Catalyst): “Gladwell could have been anywhere in the world today, and he chose to be here, with Catalyst.”
Gladwell: “It’s great to be back. I think this is my third time. It’s always a pleasure to come to Catalyst.”
Gladwell begins by retelling the story of David and Goliath, highlighting details we often overlook and pointing things out that we often don’t pay attention to.
Was David Really the Underdog?
David had a slingshot. Goliath was a heavy infantry. Most people favor the heavy infantry because of their size. But heavy infrantry–Goliaths–are sitting ducks for slingers. Slingers are quick and nimble. Goliath is large and slow.
Everyone was thinking David would be going up to fight hand-to-hand with Goliath, according to the heavy infantry model. Even Saul was assuming this when he tried to give David his armor. But David wasn’t planning on hand-to-hand combat. Why would he? He was planning on fighting with his sling.
“So we have a lumbering giant operating under a false assumption, and a nimble kid with superior technology and filled with the Spirit of the Lord. And yet we think of David as the underdog. Shouldn’t we think of the person filled with God’s Spirit has having every advantage in the world?”
Doesn’t the verse tell us not to look on outward appearances, but the heart, as God does? And if you look at the heart, isn’t David the favorite?
“We radically understimate the power of the heart.” [My note: Amen!!!!]
The Underdog Town that Stood up to the Nazis
Gladwell then tells the story of a town that famously stood up against the Nazis during WWII.
The most extraordinary story from the history of the town was when the false government that was opposing it and in league with the Nazi’s during WWII came with a large, complicated itinerary, and nothing went according to plan. The people in the town made sure the food at the banquet was really, really terrible. Half way through someone “accidentally” spills soup down the false government minister’s suit; no one shows up for the parade; a guy preaches on “he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”
Then the kids, talking to this senior minister from the fake government, reads a letter to him stating they are hiding Jews, and they will not turn them over.
The story of this town is famous for its resistence to the Nazis, and the incredible courage of the people who lived there, and how they were one in a million during a time when real courage and bravery were in dire need.
But the way the story is often told is misleading. There is nothing extraordinary about the people who lived there; they were simply people who had an accurate assessment of where power truly lies. They knew themselves. Most people would say “you versus the Nazis is a lopsided battle.” But they didn’t see it that way. They would have said “we have a whole bunch of weapons of our own.” Ex: half the year, the mountains were filled with snow, making it hard for the Nazis to hunt Jews. And there were all sorts of people willing to help hide the Jews. “Shouldn’t they have been concerned the Nazis would just obliterate the whole town?” The Nazis had bigger fish to fry.
But the most important weapon the people of the town had is that they had been through this before. 100 years before the Catholic church and ruthlessly persecuted the Protestants in the area. The Hugenot pastors were rounded up and murdered by the state, their children put in orphanages, the church was banned. They were forced to conduct all of their worship services in secret. But what did they learn during that process? How to band together, how to be strong, and most of all the power of their own faith. The French threw everything at them you can, and God protected them. So the Nazis came, and they were like “we’ve seen worse.” They were ready.
A woman tells the story of the first time a Jewish person came to her door asking for refuge. It never occured to her to say no, or that it would be dangerous. She didn’t think of herself as an underdog.
Now, here’s the question: There were millions of Christians in France during WWII, singing many of the same hymns, worshipping the same God. Why was this village the only one that gave refguge to the Jews?
Because the other Christians didn’t understand how powerful their faith made them. They thought they were underdgos. They looked at “Goliath” and said “there’s no way I can beat that guy.”
We under estimate the power of our faith, and that has real-world consequences.
If the millions of Christians had stood up against the Nazis, how many millions of Jews might have been saved? [My note again: Amen and well said.]
We not only misunderstand David; we also misunderstand Goliath. We think of him as this mighty warrior. But the Bible shows us that there are all sorts of things inconsistent with this notion.
For example, he has to be led down to the battlefield by an attendant. What? Why is that? And there is a mention of how slowly Goliath moves. That’s odd. Why is the writer of this account pointing out these things? Then there’s the fact that it takes Goliath so long to figure out what David is up to. Goliath sees David coming and is insulted. He shouldn’t be insulted, he should be worried. But he is oblivious to what is happening. And Goliath says “am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks [pluarl]?” But David didn’t have sticks. He had a sling. He had one stick, not two.
There is a growing consensus that Goliath was suffering from a disease of [My note: I can’t remember the term–I’ll call it Giantism]. And one of the symptoms of this is sometimes double vision, for example. This is likely why Goliath thought he say stick_s_ in David’s hands. And why was David led by an attendant to the valley floor? Because he couldn’t see well; so he needed a guide.
What people did not understand was that the very thing that made the giant so intimidating was actually the source of his greatest weakness.
The Key Point: You Are Not an Underdog
We live in a world full of Goliaths. But we need to remember two things. First, that giants are not always what they same. And second, that someone with nimble feet and the best technology who is filled with the Spirit of the Lord, is not an underdog.
(For more on Gladwell’s book, and to see the video of the TED talk he recently have on it, see my post on his new book.)