“These were history’s gift to my family – and if the resources of that grocer, the fruits of those riots, the possibilities of that culture, and the privileges of that skin tone had been extended to others, how many more would now live a life of fulfillment, in a beautiful house high on a hill?” Outliers, pg 285
This is how Malcolm Gladwell ends his “story of success.” In Outliers, Gladwell tells us that opportunity is crucial to success – even more crucial than you might have imagined. Throughout the book, he observes. He remarks. He ponders. He analyzes. He explains. All of this is very interesting, especially since the phenomena he investigates are relevant to our lives – we can look around us and see examples proving or disproving Gladwell’s theories. He makes us think about others,’ as well as our own, success. I myself have thought pretty hard about the ideas Gladwell has put forth, and I will be doing some more hard thinking as I further digest this book. However, I have to admit that reading this book hasn’t inspired me to take action. Yet…the inside cover of the book jacket claims that “Gladwell presents a fascinating and provocative blueprint for making the most of human potential.” Isn’t that what Outliers is really about – not just observing, but doing? Isn’t it really about making the most of human potential? But is it about taking advantage of the opportunities presented to us, or about equalizing the availability of opportunities? Is this a self-help book or a call to action to help our fellow man?
Based on the very last paragraph of this book, a portion of which is quoted above, I would guess that it would be the latter – that Gladwell is hinting to us that everyone deserves opportunities. He presents the story of KIPP, an innovative public middle school program, whose students are selected randomly through a lottery. This program is highly rigorous, with many children getting less hours of sleep per night than I myself do, and definitely spending more time on homework. All that hard work pays off, though; most students in KIPP, who due to their socio-economic status would otherwise be practically guaranteed not to make it into college, actually do get scholarships to good high schools, and in turn, 80% of KIPP students go to college. This program gives students an opportunity, a chance, a Golden Ticket, if you will, to rise above the circumstances into which they were born, to get a little bit ahead in life when they are young, and stay ahead through to adult-hood. And so why aren’t there more programs like KIPP? Is it because not every family believes in children working that hard at such a young age? Is it because it’s a new program, not entirely trusted by the general public? Maybe. But maybe, it’s because giving opportunities to the opportunity-less is something that requires sacrifice from those who are better-off, and sacrifice hurts. Here we are, sitting at our computers, reading this blog, about a book that we can all afford to buy, drinking a $4.00 coffee from Starbucks. Many of us are in college or have at least one college degree. We’ve all won the lottery. We’ve all got the Golden Ticket. We are all ahead in life. Even those kids who didn’t make it into KIPP and now work at McDonald’s, maybe not even having finished high school, are light-years ahead of starving children in Africa and people laboring in sweatshops in India. We have all been given enormous opportunity by simply being born on this continent. That makes us responsible for sharing the love – and the opportunity. “[T]o whoever much is given, of him will much be required.” (Luke 12:48)