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The Rabbi on the Beach @ The Shul on the Beach

Another Gladwell Gem | How David Beats Goliath


I cannot get enough Malcolm Gladwell.

Every time I read his work I walk away impressed, enriched and thirsting for more.

Previously I blogged about his book Outliers, which was super. Today I am writing about a recent Gladwell column in the New Yorker. I don’t subscribe to the New Yorker but periodically I check it our online. This week I had the pleasure of enjoying yet another Gladwell gem.

This time Gladwell is talking about sports and for me it is a lesson about life.

When a basketball team has inferior talent to their opponent, Gladwell has discovered that there is a great equalizer. It is called the “Full Court Press”. For a full treatment on the matter read this. (Sport Fans: Bill Simmons agrees with this and you can check out his mock debate with Gladwell here). The basic principal is for the weaker team to play defense for the entire length of the court. Normally, the defense begins attacking when the ball is 60%-70% down the court.

Gladwell has “proved” that by playing defense for 100% of the the court the more conditioned team physically will prevail over the more talented squad.

This is comparable to the biblical narrative of David thwarting Goliath. The underdog, without real world experience turning the rules of the game on their heels to gain an advantage. David used a slingshot. When an underdog recognizes their weakness and thinks unconventionally, they have a chance.

This is really useful information for war strategists and basketball coaches. What about us?

Last Shabbos we celebrated a Bar Mitzva at the Pacific Jewish Center. Yona Kosman entered the ranks of adulthood. What is the essence of the Bar Mitzva celebration?

Jewish tradition teaches that as a child we instinctively think selfishly, for the moment without understanding the consequences of our actions. As we enter adulthood, and beginning with our Bar Mitzva we begin to understand the ramifications of our actions. Slowly, we develop the skills to outmaneuver our natural instinct for instant gratification and we can begin to make good choices.

But our instinct has more than a decade head start. We begin the game at Bar Mitzva as tremendous underdogs. Certainly, many do not even participate in the battle. Many leave the fray and do not work on themselves to make conscious moral choices.

Those who do wish to wage this war and gain control of their sensual instincts and make choices instead of just reacting have a severe disadvantage.

We are the underdogs to our animal instinct. 

The principals Gladwell has pointed out are really the same principals Ramchal teaches us in Messilas Yesharim.

Ramchal and Gladwell give us the trick we need to prevail. A preemptive attack. We can’t sit and wait for the moment of choice to happen upon us and then begin to attempt to win that battle. Our advantage will only come with preparation and a “full court press” against our inclinations.

The point is that all the work to win our moral battles takes place before the opportunity presents itself. We are supposed to be constantly honing our skills as “choosers” and then when we need those skills we can emerge victorious.

Ramchal advises us to engage in Torah study and to examine our daily choices each day. This two pronged approach will enable us to be ready when the choice between “what is good and what is easy” (Albus Dumbledore, Goblet of Firepresents itself.

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2 Responses

  1. […] of my favorite authors is Malcolm Gladwell. Previously, I have had quite a few Gladwell posts (check those out) on this blog. This is […]

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