Friday, January 28, 2011

Creating Outliers

A couple weeks ago I  read Outliers—The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell.  Tony picked it up over the Christmas break out of curiosity.  He’s had several of Gladwell’s books recommended to him, Outliers, being the most widely mentioned.  Soon into the first chapter, I was receiving my own read-aloud time by my husband.  “Honey, you’ve gotta read this book.  It’s so true.  You’d like it”.  Then, dear Love, I thought; STOP READING IT TO ME!  He did.

         Each chapter contains stories of successful people—some as famous as Bill Gates, and some not quite so well known but happily successful, none-the-less.  He breaks down their lives, looking at the historical, cultural, social-economic and educational context in which these people were fortunate enough to be born.  He shows that it is no accident that NFL Hockey players most overwhelmingly are born in the first three months of the year, Jewish immigrants born in the 1930’s were destined to be successful lawyers and doctors, and Southern Chinese students will always excel in math because they have been given a historical legacy of farming rice paddies. 

         His thesis is that our way of viewing success is horribly flawed, and if only we could understand all the arbitrary decisions, lucky breaks and cultural or socio-economic advantages that outliers (those who seem to break the mold and rise above the status-quo) are given, then we could create a world full of outliers—people who recognize the gift they’ve been given and have the strength and presence of mind to seize the opportunity—rather than a world that has settled for a few “greats”, assuming they only reached the top because they are exceptionally gifted or genius.

         As I read Outliers for myself—NOT through my husband’s oratories—I naturally began replaying our own family’s decisions through the years.  The choices we’ve made, the social, economic & historical context in which we were raised and how all those minute seemingly insignificant details are, in their own way, gifts and opportunities.

         Most of my thoughts traveled to that which happened within my own family; seemingly “random” acts, or single decisions made with what information we had at the time, but had they not happened there would be no Team Dragovich in all our greater glory.  But, there is one larger cultural development that I recognize as having profoundly impacted our family—the tremendous rise in Korean adoption at just the right time.

         In the 1980’s I was happily growing in my farming community, living quite sheltered from the rest of the world.  Nothing exciting or out of the ordinary happened in Mt. Olive, until the high school English teacher and his wife—who happened to be members of my family’s church—adopted a little girl from South Korea.  A few years later, they brought home a son from the same country.  This was both exciting and out of the ordinary.  It was all I could do to keep from twisting my head from my family’s pew towards the back to their family’s pew just to gawk a little at this new and out of the ordinary occurrence—adoption from a foreign country!   I pondered during the sermon; maybe I could adopt some children from a foreign country some day when I grow up… hmmm.

         A very quick Google search revealed the exact sort of historically significant trend to which Gladwell would have pointed in his book.  After the Korean War in 1953, adoptions from South Korea rose significantly, filling orphanages with children orphaned from the war or those whose fathers were Western soldiers.  This adoption trend continued to rise steadily, spiking upwards around the late 1980’s due to the legalization of abortion, increased use of contraceptives, and changes in the social welfare program combined to create a shortage of children for adoption domestically.  I just happened to be an impressionable young girl in the mid-1980’s at the exact time South Korean adoptions were at their peak, reaching all the way into our little Mid-western town, exposing me to the wonder of international adoption.

         I wonder what I will be writing 20 and 30 years from now, when my children are all grown and living out their expressed purposes, adding to the significance of Korean adoptions.  All five are future Outliers.  And I suspect it is part of their purpose to create more.

Grace & Peace,

1 comment:

Apryl said...

Oh what a great post, Shari! I haven't blogged in a while and you are back with gusto :)