We all grew up with the biblical story of David and Goliath. Of all the various stories from the Bible, as a child it was the one I would read over and over again. The story of the young boy defeating — against all odds — the massive giant is a lesson we adults apply today to business, warfare and obstacles of all kinds.
Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, “David and Goliath, Underdogs, Misfits and The Art of Battling Giants,” demystifies the story and the common assumptions we make about power.
Gladwell, who has gained a res-pected pop-culture status as an author, sees beyond appearances to get through to their underlying essence. He does it again here.
As the story goes, the Philistines were camped on one side of a ridge overlooking the Elah Valley; the Israelites were on the other. Unwilling to descend down into the lower ground, both armies were at a standstill. That is until Goliath makes his way down into the valley, carrying a javelin, a spear and a sword. He barks, “Choose you a man and let him come down to me! If he prevail in battle against me and strikes me down, we shall be slaves to you. But if I prevail and strike him down, you will be slaves to us and serve us.”
When no one in the Israelite camp moves, a young shepherd boy steps forward and volunteers. Against King Saul’s wishes, the boy refuses the king’s armor and runs down with only a sling, a shoulder bag and shepherd’s staff. Goliath mocks him, gesturing to his staff, “Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?”
What takes place next is the stuff of legend.
With perspicacity and close examination, Gladwell reveals the reverse of what we were taught. Among the three kinds of ancient warriors, which included cavalry (on horseback and on chariots) and infantry (foot soldiers with swords and shields) there were projectile warriors (slingers).
An experienced slinger could kill or maim a target at a distance of up to 200 hundred yards and were deadly against infantry. So who really was the underdog?
Gladwell uses this story to demonstrate how we misperceive threats and challenges. We often see them as enormous when we’re not really seeing them for what they truly are. He points out, just as the Israelites saw an intimidating giant, in reality the very thing that gave the giant his apparent advantage was also the source of his greatest weakness.
Fast forward to Israel today. With a vast unwieldy Arab world in turmoil — not unlike the larger, unstable Goliath — Israel has demonstrated the story Gladwell is preaching. By being smarter and more nimble modern Israel is the embodiment of the brave lad who outmaneuvered the slow, unsteady enemy.
Again, the metaphor is not limited to warfare. Each of us also has our own perceived Goliath — an illness, a job schoolwork — that seems overwhelming. Its size might just be its downfall.
Abe Novick is a local freelance writer.
For more, visit his website, abebuzz.com.