Wow, what a week. So much that I didn’t post Friday, but here’s a Monday Musing instead. Friends, I have two little letters that can sum up this past week…D & G.
What do you think of when you see “D&G”?
Perhaps the Italian luxury fashion brand, Dolce & Gabbana? No, I’m not talking fashion here (because this is the year of life and loungewear)…the D&G I’m focusing on today is David & Goliath!
YES, David and Goliath. You see, in a little God moment or Holy Spirit whisper, I happen to be reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants” this week. I had no idea how relevant it would be this past week–a time full of COVID vaccines & crisis points, Georgia elections and a horrifying series of events in the Capitol Wednesday.
This 2013 book knocks down the idea of David being an underdog and emphasizes the unique challenges that give individuals and communities a notable advantage in life. It is strength derived from a painful past story.
David and Goliath is one of those stories that have moved from Jewish, Christian and Muslim (Dawud & Jalut in Islam) stories, to mainstream culture, as the ultimate underdog tale. David–a small, young, poor shepherd boy–challenges Goliath–a giant, feared, champion infantry soldier. David is the good guy, Goliath is the bully. And, yet, David has a couple of huge advantages…God on his side (obviously) and also the type of ‘weaponry’ as a projectile warrior. As a soldier on foot, Goliath is prepared to battle David with sword, spear and javelin; Scripture even mentions another soldier walking in front of him with a shield. David is a master with a sling, spinning a stone around at a lethal speed and aiming for a vulnerable spot on Goliath–his forehead. In addition, we learn by digging in that Goliath most likely had a health condition of giants (acromegaly), which caused poor eyesight (hence the assistant walking in front of him with the shield and Goliath’s yelling at David, who was too far away for Goliath to see clearly). David runs toward Goliath and strikes him quickly. So we’re actually comparing apples (Goliath–infantry, on foot) to oranges (David–projectile warrior). Not such an underdog after all, see?
I’m obviously summarizing this famous narrative quite a lot, yet the message is clear—sometimes we are born with or step into life experiences that allow us to develop an advantage out of a challenge. Other evidence-based examples in this book:
- Dyslexia – David Boies, prominent attorney who became an expert listener from a young age because reading while dyslexic proved to be difficult and very slow; his keen listening skills are what enable him to pinpoint tone, pauses and even breathing among the other side in court cases.
- The New Kid – Vivek Ranadive, a volunteer middle school girls’ basketball coach, didn’t know the game but he did understand the power of going against the norm. The team was young, inexperienced and not obsessed with basketball, like many of their opponents. His daughter’s team reached the national finals by working smarter not harder, strategically employing a full-court press with his daughter as the designated trapper.
- Childhood Trauma – Dr. Emil “Jay” Freireich had a childhood filled with abuse, neglect and poverty; however, out of this, he developed skills of laser-sharp focus and tenacity in the height of childhood cancer research. Through his determination and aggresively unorthodox tactics to keep dying children alive, he was able to research and develop groundbreaking conclusions in chemotherapy “cocktails” of drugs that went on to save thousands of children’s lives and influence doctors today.
- Racism – Rev. Wyatt Walker, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s chief of staff, used clever Br’er Rabbit tactics to move the civil rights movement forward, specifically during the 1963 Birmingham riot. Rev. Walker’s unique personality, deep self-awareness (including advocating as a Black man in the South) and his ability to orchestrate plans based on human behavior were carried out brilliantly for the cause.
Now this book bestselling received mixed reviews and a smattering of criticism when it first came out (mostly around the “convenience of science” to prove Gladwell’s case, which many writers do); however, it has done its job in making me think differently. I appreciate Gladwell highlighting topics that we as humans do not always dive into–do our greatest challenges actually give us an advantage in a situation? Is there more going on below the surface in a situation? Can we think differently about our circumstances in ways that move us forward? I think of friends and mentors who live through a disadvantage (whether it is an experience, physical or emotional challenge or something else), and it is a part of their life as they choose to move forward. Is there a detrimental experience or trait in your life that has steered your story? What is the fuel that allows you to rise above and pivot past it?
And going back to last week’s happenings, I can only imagine how tragic events will drive the helpers to work harder and smarter for justice, for peace, for change. Right now, we grieve. And we listen, discuss and take action. And those of us [namely white people and those in groups of privilege] who are shaken up by the recent turn of events, we learn and live alongside those of us who have been active anti-racist advocates for a long time. Even though an event or person’s actions are “never okay,” we can all journey on a “very okay” path of healing and determination to work against injustice and systems of racism. Just like no one wishes childhood trauma or dyslexia on anyone, these gut-wrenching challenges can move a person to weave a story of healing, strength and empathic determination to make the world better for another.
Okay, let’s do that! Pretty simple, right? Ha, well, let’s take steps…one foot in front of the other…with another D&G–Determination & Gratitude. This is a year of love and loungewear, and I hope we are hopeful and healing together.
***On Friday, we will have a list of opportunities to serve on MLK Day! Stay tuned.