Focus on the Family

Focus on the Family with Jim Daly

Battling Giants in Everyday Life (Part 2 of 2)

Battling Giants in Everyday Life (Part 2 of 2)

Writer Malcolm Gladwell offers encouragement to listeners as he shares a fresh perspective on facing life's obstacles and setbacks in a discussion based on his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. (Part 2 of 2)



Malcolm Gladwell: our faith in God gives us the power to do the impossible, right? And very, very few of us of faith or not of faith, ever make that realization, ever completely plumb the depths of the power that faith gives us.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: Your faith can give you the ability to accomplish the impossible. That’s a reflection from Malcolm Gladwell and he’s back with us on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: Malcolm shared with us how oftentimes what appears to be an obstacle is really an opportunity to change the world. I mean, I love that. That’s a big statement. He did that through biblical, historical and modern examples of men and women who have courageously defied the odds against them, many of whom found their power by their faith in God and their ability to forgive and you heard that last time. You’re gonna hear that again today.

What I love about Malcolm Gladwell, throughout his writings and in this conversation, is his ability to look at something from a unique vantage point. These are familiar ideas, but he will illuminate some things that we have missed; I guarantee it.

And if you’re going through a difficult season in your life and you can’t understand why God is letting you go through this adversity, you are especially gonna be encouraged by today’s program, because I think Malcolm will help you understand what God is trying to achieve in letting you go through this adversity.

John: And as is the case with his books, there is sure to be an “aha” moment where you think, oh, that’s it. That’s our prayer for you today and the discussion last time really sets the stage for what you’ll hear today and so, get the CD or download or stream it. Get the mobile app at Just make sure you hear the first part of this discussion. Let’s go ahead now and hear the second part of the conversation with Malcolm Gladwell as recorded in New York City on today’s “Focus on the Family.”


Jim: Malcolm, it’s great to have you back at “Focus on the Family.”

Malcolm: Thank you. It’s a real pleasure to be here.

Jim: Malcolm, you’re talking to many people’s hearts right now and they’re in the middle of a situation where they’re the underdog. They’re feeling it. They’re living it. It may be the loss of a job, divorce, a prodigal son or daughter. Speak to them about hope, ’cause that’s really what you’re—

Malcom: Yeah.

Jim: –saying in your book. There is hope, just find the right lesson in what God is showing you.

Malcom: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I think one of the themes that I come back to again and again in the book is, the difference between compensation learning and capitalization learning. Capitalization learning are [sic] the things you learn because you have a bunch of advantages. You’re good at it. The world’s going in your direction, you know. That’s a kind of learning we understand really well, right? You got a great voice, so you go and become a singer and you end up as a rock star or whatever.

But there’s another kind of learning and that’s compensation learning and that’s the things you learn as the way you approach the world when you are compensating for what you don’t have, for what you’re bad at, for what’s been taken away from you. And compensation learning is way more difficult, but it is far more powerful.

Jim: In fact, you talk about people with dyslexia.

Malcom: Exactly, who are a great example of when you look at dyslexics, what you discover is two things, that some people with dyslexia really get defeated by the world. But if you look at any group of very successful entrepreneurs and there’s been series of studies of this, when we look at successful entrepreneurs, we find that dyslexics are massively over-represented among them.

Jim: Huh.

Malcom: These are people who did compensation learning. The thing that you need to be a success in school was taken away from them. They couldn’t read, right? What did they do? You know, that’s the biggest underdog position you can be in. They didn’t give up. What they did is they compensated. They learned how to problem solve, to communicate orally, to build teams, to delegate responsibility, to you know, and I interviewed dozens of these incredibly successful dyslexic entrepreneurs and we’re talking about some of the biggest names, I mean, billionaires and they all told the same story.

I was 9-years-old in grade school. I couldn’t read and so, I made friends with Johnny and made him do my homework for me and I would talk my teacher into moving my grade from a C to a, you know, a C-plus. And you know, and you realize they were learning the kind of skills that would prove to be incredibly useful when they became entrepreneurs.

But here’s the thing. It wasn’t easy, right? Their childhoods weren’t fun. They were difficult and hard, so the thing I would say to someone who was an underdog is, I can’t pretend that what you’re going through is gonna get better tomorrow. It’s not gonna be easy. All I can say is, that what we know about people who have been in situations like yours is that, if you have faith and persevere, you have an opportunity to learn something you would never learn otherwise, right? And that, if you look at it the right way, that’s a gift.

John: It doesn’t always feel like a gift if you’re parenting that child.

Malcom: Yes, that’s right.

John: Our youngest has autism and that’s a big hurdle to overcome, because he is wired to think way differently than a lot of people. And the chapter on dyslexia gave me great hope—

Malcom: Yeah.

John: –because you’re offering a long view that says, yeah, these present struggles are temporary. There’s not a guarantee of success at the end of it, but you’re offering some hope there for those of us who are saying, “It’s really awful right now.”

Jim: And your guy’s in junior high. (Laughter)

John: Yes. Yeah, it’s that formation period that you speak of, as well.

Malcom: Yeah.

John: Can I think that it’s going to turn out? Can I hope it’s going to turn out? Can I expect it to turn out for him?

Malcom: Well, it’s more than that though. It’s not just about him. It’s also about you and your wife and your other kids and the experience of having him in your life has changed you, right?

John: Absolutely, it has.

Malcom: And because you’re a different person and they’re different people by virtue of being involved with your son, the world has benefitted, right? I mean, think about what it’s taught you—empathy, patience, you know, a million things which are some of the most important things human beings can learn, humility. And I could go on, I mean, so it’s a blessing on a macro scale. You know, before we’ve even gotten to the specific question of your son, the world is a different place because of him.

Jim: Malcolm, let me ask you this, to put that spiritual context to this. So much of the Scripture resonates with what you’re saying, ’cause I’m thinking of the words of Jesus and of course, the Apostle Paul, where they talk about when you’re weak, you’re strong.

Malcolm: Yeah.

Jim: If you want to be first, then be last. If you want to be the best, then be a servant of all.

Malcolm: Yeah.

Jim: It’s counterintuitive to the human spirit, so I’d like to just, with your observations, talk about that. It’s almost like the Bible’s telling us—

Malcolm: Yeah.

Jim: –how to behave in a way that is rewarded in what you’ve identified in your book, David and Goliath, that you’re gonna learn hard lessons, but they’ll be a benefit to you.

Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, the question is, where does power come from? And I don’t mean power in the kind of way we use that word now, but I mean, real spiritual power. When Jesus washes the feet of His disciples, He is doing more than showing humility, you know, doing this thing that the servants always did in that time. It’s more than that.

It’s that He’s getting at their feet and listening to them. He’s not saying I’m not your leader. He’s absolutely their leader, but what He’s saying is, part of what it means to Me to be an effective leader is to kneel at your feet and listen to what you have to say, to put Myself in a position where I’m not dominating you, dictating to you or any of those.

And that is a really, really powerful and beautiful lesson. I think of, you know, we’re going through in this country this enormously divisive debate about law enforcement. It’s complicated. All kinds of people are saying all kinds of things. All I will say is this, that those in positions of power, need to remember that, that from time to time, you need to kneel at the feet of those you are serving.

And listen, that doesn’t excuse the other side from behaving badly, but if you want to be respected, you have to win that respect.

Jim: In fact, the quote that jumped out at me in your book was this: “That power doesn’t lead to submission; it can lead to defiance.”

Malcolm: Yeah.

Jim: That is true is parenting; it’s true in marriage and it’s true in culture.

Malcolm: Yeah.

Jim: That popped out at me, that you’ve gotta be careful when you’re wielding power and authority, to make sure that it’s for the benefit of the people that you have power and authority over—

Malcolm: Yeah.

Jim: –right?

Malcolm: I remember my parents switched to the Mennonite church in our town about 15 years ago and my father came back from his first congregational meeting and they were choosing a new pastor. And he was completely blown away and he said, “We were interviewing candidates for assistant pastor and the pastor of the church sat in the congregation with all of us.” And he was like, in other words, the pastor said, “I am one of you as we make this crucial decision about our community. I’m not gonna dictate, you know, have my choice or ram it down your [throat]. I’m gonna sit with [you]; all of us together are gonna decide who’s gonna be in the leadership.”

And the pastor was not abdicating his leadership role. He was accentuating it, right? He was building his foundation, so when he stands up in the pulpit on Sunday morning, you respect and listen to him, right? And that is an incredibly difficult lesson to learn and a hard lesson to learn for those in positions of power. I mean, we could bring in every CEO in this country and you know, the ones who are jetting places in helicopters and private planes, while they’re laying off workers and we could say to them, “Look, leadership is about more than simply making smart decisions about the bottom line of your company. It’s about being able to look the people who work for you in the eye and say, ‘I have earned your respect.’” Right?

Jim: Absolutely. Let me ask a really tough question and it’s not in the book, but I think you can apply it. When you look at the human heart and where we’re at in this culture and in other western cultures, we have such a tendency for pharisaism—

Malcolm: Uh-hm.

Jim: –meaning I’ve got it figured out. I know the way to live it. I’m living it pretty well and now I look down on you.

Malcolm: Yeah, yeah.

Jim: And that creates what Jesus went after. I mean, He did not appreciate that human heart that had that kind of attitude. Yet, it seems like the person and I don’t want to make a broad application here, but when you’ve got it buttoned down, when adversity is not in your situation, where you are living it well, it tends to play into our pride.

Malcolm: Yeah.

Jim: And it prevents us from learning the very lessons that you talk about in the book. Speak to that component about how we stay humble, how—

Malcolm: Yeah.

Jim: –what I see in Christian leadership unfortunately, is too much pride, ’cause we think we’ve got it nailed down.

Malcolm: Yeah.

Jim: And we don’t make accommodation for the human condition of sin.

Malcolm: Well, this is something I think that’s happening throughout our culture right now, which is that, you know, what’s the one thing, as a non-American, that always cracks me up about America is, people talk about American politics, for example, as being incredibly divided and you know, and antagonistic and you know, polarized as never before.

And I say, you’ve gotta be kidding. The people who are pretending to be so polarized, they’re not polarized. They agree on 99 out of 100 things, right? But they’re so completely prideful, as you say and certain of their own correctness, that they’ve chosen to make the one out of 100 things that they disagree on and blow it all out of proportion, right?

That’s the same thing. We find it very difficult to say, to acknowledge what we have in common with those who differ with us and to say on the things that we disagree about, that we can have conversations. We don’t know all the answers. We have to find a better path to the truth. So, [it] is that when ordinary mortals take on the mantel of certainty, they run into trouble.

Jim: Well, that’s well-said.

Program Note:

John: Some really interesting insights from Malcolm Gladwell on today’s “Focus on the Family” with Jim Daly. He wrote the book, David and Goliath and you can find details about it. We’re actually bundling that with a CD of this two-part conversation and we’re happy to send that to you when you call 800-A-FAMILY. Let’s go ahead and return now to that conversation with Malcolm Gladwell.

End of Program Note

Jim: Let me talk about a real heartfelt story that you had in the book about Wilma Derkson. I was really drawn to that story, just the compassion of that situation. Talk about how you integrated that into David and Goliath.

Malcolm: Yeah, I wanted to [people to]understand by the end of the book, [that] the direction the book goes is, it ends up with a kind of awestruck appreciation of the power of faith. What is it that faith allows you to do? And that other things that we are obsessed with—money, political power, brilliance—can’t bring you to do?

And I spent some time with this extraordinary woman named Wilma Derkson, who lives in Winnipeg in Canada and her daughter was brutally murdered by a sex offender in Winnipeg years ago. And before they even found the murderer, just after they found her daughter’s body, she and her husband stood up and said, “We don’t know who did this to our daughter, but we are trying to find a way to forgive him.”

And if you can imagine, to my mind I don’t think I’ve ever found or met someone who has displayed as much courage as that. I cannot imagine anything more impossibly difficult than saying that, right? Someone has done something, the most unspeakable thing you can do to a parent and they said, “We’re trying to find a way to forgive this person.”

And that sentiment came out of their faith and it was not easy. It was something they struggled with every day, every day before they said it and every day after. But to me, it was the highest expression of their faith, because we’re called to forgive and it’s insanely difficult and our society doesn’t reward us for it. Our society rewards us for doing the opposite, for lashing out and—

Jim: Being strong.

Malcom: –and being “strong.”

Jim: Right.

Malcom: And I just wanted to contrast her story with the story of someone who did the opposite, who chose not to forgive and talk about the consequences of that. And the point was, I want to get people to understand that this thing she had, [that] she and her husband have in her hearts, which we can’t see or feel or measure or any of those things, made it possible for them to do something that, you know, a giant armed with everything in the world can’t do.

And if you can read the story of Wilma Derkson and not come away blown away by the power of faith, I don’t know, you ‘re (Laughing) from another planet.

Jim: Well, and what faith provides the human spirit–

Malcom: It provides—

Jim: –in that way.

Malcom: –yeah, it goes back to what she had is what David had in his heart and what the Huguenots had. It was what I think she and her husband understood was, our faith in God gives us the power to do the impossible, right? And very, very few of us of faith or not of faith, ever make that realization, ever completely plumb the depths of the power that faith gives us.

Jim: In fact, another quote that stood out for me was and correct me, I’m just going from memory here. It’s always difficult to quote an author (Laughter) with his content. But in essence you were saying that a person who mistakes the facts, what they perceive to be the facts, can be disastrous in terms of decision making and outcome.

Malcom: Uh-hm.

Jim: And that’s really the point of the book, is you’ve got to understand your environment and that takes a lot of different filters, including a faith filter.

Malcom: Yeah.

Jim: What is God doing?

Malcom: Yeah.

Jim: And then applying that in your circumstance, which again, all of the characters you note in the book basically did.

Malcom: Yeah.

Jim: But talk about the importance of knowing as best as you can, the facts, so that your decision making is more in line with the outcome that you hope for.

Malcom: Yeah, yeah. You know, I think it’s at the point, I have a chapter in the book about a guy, a doctor named Emil Freireich, who is this extraordinary man who was one of the, basically is the guy who cures childhood leukemia.

And he, for about a 10-year period when he was a very young man, he tried to convince the world of a particular strategy against this disease and everyone thought that he was wrong and was more than wrong, that he was a monster and he was torturing children and he oughta be kicked out and fired and he persevered and persevered and persevered and he was right.

Jim: Huh.

Malcom: And that story is a really important one, because he represents the marriage of these two notions. He is a[n] absolutely brilliant man who had an insight into a disease that no one else had. So, he had a command of his field. He had the facts in a way that no one else did, but that was not enough, right?

That being in full command of intellectually of what had to be done was half the battle. The other half was having the power in his heart to be able to persevere in the face of enormous opposition and the people denouncing him and turning their backs on him and at one point he was conducting experiments at NCI in Washington in these wards full of dying babies.

Jim: Hm.

Malcom: And nobody was helping him, because they thought what he was doing was wrong. He was getting up every morning at 5 a.m. and working until midnight for months on a stretch. I mean, it was this incredible story and you realize that you know, you look at that man 30 years later and you say he’s a genius and you realize, that’s just the beginning of the story of what he was, right?

It’s heart plus brains. And I go back to the point I’ve been making, made throughout the book and trying to making today on this show, which is that we talk about the brain and we don’t talk about the heart, right? And—

Jim: That’s right.

Malcom: –we need both, right? To sail into the world with only the measurable and the tangible is to be ill-equipped.

Jim: And what’s so good about that and what you’re saying is, that the world typically looks at the brain, because it’s measurable. It’s academic. It’s outputs, but the heart—

Malcom: Yeah.

Jim: –is scary.

Malcom: Yeah.

Jim: It’s intangible; it’s unknown and that’s what faith deals with.

John: You’ve spoken, Malcolm, about several stories that are touching the heart and it’s my understanding that as you were writing this book or at least before you wrote it, you encountered some things that really kind of reset your faith journey. Now you’ve got the head part and you ‘ve been exercising that quite a bit. How have you changed as you’ve interacted with some of this material and put the book together?

Malcom: Yeah, I mean, I was raised in a very religious world, environment and I had drifted away. And you know, intellectually, I understood the importance of religious faith, but I just was, you know, living in a world that was different from. And I didn’t intend this book to be, wasn’t going to be a book about faith. It was gonna be a book about something else entirely.

Jim: Really.

Malcom: And as I got deeper and deeper into it and I, you know, I read the story of the Huguenots and I met Wilma Derkson and I kept on getting exposed to these stories and realizing and being drawn back to the world I was raised in and the faith that I was introduced to as a child and realizing [and] finally understanding it on a deeper level, that you know, you can’t sit and talk to Wilma Derkson for three hours and not believe that faith is the most powerful thing in the world. You just can’t, right? I mean, it’s like, so, it was. I was fundamentally affected by [it]. This book was a, you know, it was a blessing for me. I mean, even if it had never sold a single copy, I would have considered it to be the most important book I’ve ever written, you know.

Jim: Malcolm, what I so appreciate about it, it has reinforced some things that have been in my heart, when I look at some of the political debate and we talk about power in this country. I’m saying something now that some people are offended by within the Christian community and that is, Christians tend to historically, to do really well when we’re the joyful minority.

Malcom: Uh-hm.

Jim: And what I mean by that is, we’re not wielding power. We’re responding to it and we demonstrate our faith in that kind of a situation. It’s certainly true of early Rome—

Malcom: Yeah.

Jim: –and what Jesus and the disciples encountered. They were all martyred for what they believe. We’re seeing that happening in the Middle East right now.

Malcom: Uh-hm.

Jim: You know, one of the great things I think the Lord laid on our hearts is to finish the houses for the 21 martyrs that were killed, so Focus on the Family, we started construction not long ago and we’re gonna do that as a statement to say, we stand with you in that.

But here’s the sobering thing that occurred in those discussions. When I talked with them, they were weeping, but they said, “We’re weeping not from pain; we’re weeping with joy, that God would choose someone in our family to suffer for His name.”

Malcom: Uh-hm.

Jim: That’s a totally different paradigm.

Malcom: Yeah.

Jim: That’s not winning in this context. That has really shaken me about what’s important in this life, to see mostly illiterate Christians that are living in squalor, demonstrate such profound faith, to say, we know what’s real and we count it a joy to suffer for Jesus the way that we have. That really made an impact on me and that’s what you’re talking about, isn’t it?

Malcom: Yeah, yeah, that it is a radical act to express your faith fully. I mean, I think sometimes we can be so comfortable in this amazing world we’ve built for ourselves, that we lose sight of the fact that, you know, this is a faith that was started by a group of revolutionaries and to this day, there are people who are, like you’ve just described, who are living at the fringe, right? They are meeting the world head on and dealing with, you know, unspeakable things because of their faith. And that should remind us of our roots. That’s where we came from.

Jim: And that’s what you’ve done so beautifully in your book, David and Goliath. Malcolm Gladwell, author of that book, thanks for being with us on “Focus on the Family.”


John: And that’ll wrap up a fascinating two-part conversation with Malcolm Gladwell as we come to a close of today’s “Focus on the Family.

Jim: John, I love Malcolm’s conclusion that as people of faith, we need to believe in the power of God to help us overcome whatever difficult circumstances we may be facing. That’s brilliant theology right there. That doesn’t mean that our problems go away, but God will give you the faith and the ability to walk through seemingly insurmountable odds. And we might grumble and we might complain, but what is God teaching us? And that’s what this has been all about.

Here at Focus on the Family, we want to help strengthen your faith through our broadcasts, through articles, through other tools and I hope we have achieved that today. In fact, over the last 12 months, we’ve helped more than 1.3 million people grow stronger in their faith. We do a lot of research here at the ministry to find out if what we’re doing is impacting your life and I am so blessed to know that we are having an impact.

And if you’ve benefited from what we do here and you believe in our mission for family, would you help us? And help us to help others. It is only through your financial support that we’re able to stand in the gap for these folks and that is a wonderful testimony about the love of God flowing through all of us to touch the lives of others. So, help us today.

John: And you can make that donation at or when you call 800-232-6459. As you can tell, David and Goliath, thebook written by Malcolm, is really very interesting. It talks about how obstacles when you view ’em correctly, can be actually advantages and how weapons of the Spirit can lead us to overcome devastating circumstances. And we’d invite you to get a copy when you call or online.

And we’re going to put that book with a CD of this two-part conversation and we’re happy to send that to you when you make a contribution of any amount to Focus on the Family today. Join the support team and we’ll send that CD and book to you.

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, I’m John Fuller, thanking you for listening and inviting you back tomorrow when we’ll hear from financial expert Mary Hunt. She’ll have a lot of helpful ideas about getting out of debt and saving for your future. That’s tomorrow, when we once again, have trusted advice to help you and your family thrive. 

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