The Paradox of Arbitrariness; Towards a Review of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (Intr. & Chaps. 1 and 2.) __Written by Bayo Aderoju
It is no longer a discovery that one key factor that defines mortality is humans’ insatiable appetite for exploring the cosmos, endeavors geared towards unravelling everything deemed mystic about man and the world in which he lives. And as a result, across generations, many a phenomenon that hitherto seemed preternatural or insurmountable–and all associated myths and absurdities–has been demystified or conquered, thereby paving ways for our incremental progress: civilization, advancements or what have you. Remember, we are never satisfied. Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, an epochal work of several invocations, is yet another attempt as such; and it is, brilliantly, because of its subject matter: man himself, his life, and how he makes whatever he makes of his life. How does a person succeed more than majority–become an outlier? Does it even matter where or when he’s born, who born him, what circumstances greeted his birth, etcetera?
We ride into Outliers majestically upon a marvel of a discovery that our genetic compositions (or any similar arbitrary factor for that matter) or medical consciousness does not answer–but I would rather stubbornly say exhaust–the why of lasting health and longevity. The Rosetans, in the U.S. State of Pennsylvania, excel medically and live longer because of the culture of community: all for one and one for all. The why, essentially–and scientifically too–is “the mysterious and magical benefits of people stopping to talk to one another on the streets and of having three generations under one roof.” It is indeed Ubuntu, and an impeccable paradigm introducing us into a world of wonders spread across the pages of the work.
Everyone is self-made but only the successful ones admit it, thus writes an author and if you accost just anybody (including myself before reading Outliers) and ask, what makes a person succeed extremely in life? S/he would mostly likely say something like everyone has his/her destiny in his/her hands. Or a rather ridiculous variant: as a man thinketh so shall he become. But we have learnt from Mr. Gladwell, with facts, that we’re wrong, that success never occurs as arbitrarily as we would like to think of it. The Matthew effect; the place of OPPORTUNITIES available for a person as a result of when, where and to whom s/he’s born cannot be overemphasized. The nuances of sport, the Canadian Hockey light up our path and make us see it all.
The myth about talent is second to be unfounded. Perhaps nothing is more parochial than saying people succeed all because they are talented. Mr. Gladwell does well to make us realize the sheer importance of practice: THE 10,000-HOUR RULE of mastery. And through the Bills (Gates and Joy), the Beatles and the rest we learnt further that even practice is underpinned by opportunities arising from when, where and to whom a person is born.
No one is self-made: success indeed never occurs as arbitrarily as we would like to think of it, but these things occur arbitrarily because no one selects when, where or to whom s/he is born. Neither would anybody consider those intricacies before we make choices–like “cut-off dates” in sport, education and so on and so forth that place people born during certain months at some advantage above others–that have long-lasting effects on everyone. So that is it, the paradox of arbitrariness.
In conclusion, as far as the making of outliers is concerned, we cannot but learn that as one deal with or lead people, especially younger people (children, pupils, etcetera), one’s decisions and choices must be informed by these factors. Among those who belong to the same age-group, some were born earlier than others and the import of that singular factor is significant in a lot of ways. The same follows for background, upbringing, etcetera. And for mastery and success in a trade, no matter how massive a talent, sustained progressive practice is essential. Finally, by the end of the second chapter, as a matter of serendipity, one would have also realized more reasons to be reflective about times and the trends and see that our genuine happiness, heartiness depends on whether our neighbor is happy or not and whatever we do vis-à-vis.