2011.04.13 My mind is your mind

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

For several weeks now, I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “What the Dog Saw: and other adventures.” It’s probably been more like several months that I’ve been flipping through its 400 pages, but I only pick it up sporadically. (I’m a slow reader, but not that slow.) It’s a fascinating book that explores the most intriguing of topics.

The book is a compilation of essays that previously appeared in The New Yorker magazine where Gladwell is a staff writer. Gladwell gives the inside story on more than 20 ordinary topics such as hair dye, the Showtime Rotisserie and the Veg-O-Matic, dog training, job interviews, pit bulls, and ketchup. 

Ever wonder why our grocery stores have loads of offerings in the mustard department and not so much for ketchup?

In 20 pages, Gladwell will have you riveted and more interested in ketchup than you’d ever want to be. Without even knowing it, he’ll offer the key to understanding why your daughter Maddie went from eating everything as a toddler, but then became an incredibly picky eater.

And he doesn’t go into it, but his ketchup article makes you realize why we have a mustard museum in this country—it used to be in Mt. Horeb, Wis., but now it’s in Middleton, Wis., and called the National Mustard Museum—but not a ketchup museum.

Although...there was this one link on a Google search that had me going for a minute...

Planetpasadena.net, the joke website of Mildred and Violet Planettino, mentions the Pasadena Museum of Ketchup, the Tournament of Ketchup Parade, and the Young People's Ketchup Social, sponsored by St. Didley’s Parish Church.

Gladwell researches everyday kind of topics, ones that most people can relate to, ones that even if you haven’t ever wondered about them before, you are now intrigued by them. He has an amazing curiosity about such a diverse array of topics and his writing just pulls you in.

But the second paragraph of his preface just shocked me. I didn’t read the preface until I’d read about a third of the essays. I often don’t read the preface or introduction of books at all, but this one started with “When I was a small child” and I just figured if Gladwell was so interesting as an adult, he must have been quite a kid.

But he was just working his way up to explaining how his curiosity about the interior life of human beings developed. 

Gladwell explains that “One-year-olds think that if they like Goldfish Crackers, then [their parents] must like them too: “they have not grasped the idea that what is inside their head is different from what is inside everyone else’s head.”

When kids realize that others might not necessarily like what they like, “that moment is one of the great cognitive milestones of human development.”

Two-year-olds are so terrible, Gladwell says, because they are “systematically testing the fascinating and...utterly novel notion that something that gives [them] pleasure might not actually give someone else pleasure—and the truth is that as adults we never lose that fascination.”

Arrested development? That’s what explains my over-protective mothering instincts? I’ve mentioned before that if I’m cold I think my kids must be cold so I want them to wear hats and gloves, but it never occurred to me that my reasoning is rooted in a lack of adequate brain development.

I pretty much think if I like something, others will too. I kind of have a vague inkling that I am sometimes weird and that my mind operates differently, but I still think people will embrace ideas and thoughts with as much enthusiasm as I do. And, I’m always left shaking my head when they don’t. 

And, now, I know, thanks to Gladwell’s explanation of a two-year-old’s brain, there’s no cause for the head shaking—unless it could shake some sense into my deluded brain.

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