National Edition

Malcolm Gladwell tells of the power of forgiveness

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 5 2013 11:55 p.m. MST

Malcolm Gladwell talks about his new book Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Malcom Gladwell was in Salt Lake Tuesday night, speaking at the inaugural Sam Rich Lecture Series, hosted by the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. Gladwell is the author of several international best sellers, "The Tipping Point", "Blink" and "Outliers". His brand new book is "David and Goliath," which deals with the surprising powers of underdogs and the way in which opposition and trauma can often produce stronger human beings.

The main event Tuesday was at a sold out lecture Abravanel Hall, but Gladwell visited with the Deseret News prior to the event.

DN: You have said in the run-up to this book that writing it has reaffirmed or rekindled your own faith, and you have pointed specifically to the Anabaptist tradition, which does feature prominently in the book. Could you tell us in a little more detail the impact that this had on your faith?

MG: I was raised in a very religious family in a part of Ontario that is one of the strongholds of the Mennonite church. So that was all around me growing up. My family has remained very much in the religious tradition, and I moved away and drifted away. But it's true, doing this book, I had this chapter about this woman, Wilma Derksen, whose daughter was murdered by a sexual predator, and who forgives her daughter's murderer.

And I thought that story was so extraordinary, and what she did was so incredible. Her reason was very simple. The Mennonite tradition takes forgiveness very seriously, and their response to the persecution that they suffered­­ — they were in Russia for many years, where they were profoundly persecuted, and subject to some of the same pogroms as the Jews were — their response was that they would always forgive their tormentors and move on with their lives.

And she drew strength from that tradition, and from her own faith, to do something that I thought was impossible, that for most of us would be impossible. I don't know how anyone can turn their back on that story, on that example of the power of faith.

DN: It's almost actually identical to the story of the Amish community in Pennsylvania in 2006, where five girls were killed and five others injured, and the response was the same.

MG: There are numerous stories in the Anabaptist tradition of these extraordinary acts of forgiveness. But it's one thing to read about them, and it's another thing to sit across the table from a woman telling you about her own story and her own daughter.

DN: Did you catch that the courts have overturned the conviction, and there will probably be a new trial?

MG: She emailed me. She said, you know, that the beautiful thing about forgiveness that her peace of mind is not contingent on the legal system disposing of the case in a way that is fair and just. She has made her peace with herself and with God.

In the book I compare the way she dealt with her tragedy with an almost identical case of a family losing a teenage daughter, where the response of the family was profoundly different, it was to start a crusade in their state to dramatically toughen criminal penalties.

I happen to disagree with that policy, but that's not the real issue. The real issue was the way that that family in California reacted to tragedy was not ultimately successful, in the sense that it did not bring peace and closure to their lives. If you pin your hopes on the way the world out there is going to go about its business, you're taking an enormous risk. The outcome of the extraordinarily courageous act that Wilma Derksen took was that she found some measure of peace in the midst of all of this horror.

DN: You have said that the Mennonite tradition is your family's tradition "now." Could you clarify the now?

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