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Gladwell on the difference between modern society’s

Gladwell on the difference between modern society’s perception of trauma recovery and the reality. “The vast majority of people get over traumatic events, and get over them remarkably well. Only a small subset—five to fifteen per cent—struggle in a way that says they need help.”

Reader comments

Kip IngramNov 01, 2004 at 12:15PM

Regarding the quote Jason pulled from the work, I'm *so* glad to see someone point that out. I think that we get way too namby-pamby about things sometimes. Obviously, that doesn't mean "don't help the ones that do need help." But we really do need to work on this perception that everything is so horribly bad so much of the time and that humanity in general is so weak.

We humans are actually a pretty tough, resiliant bunch if you give us half a chance.

Kip IngramNov 01, 2004 at 12:16PM

Ugh. Make that "resilient." Jason, you really need to come up with some way to let people edit their own comments.

Danny CohenNov 01, 2004 at 12:26PM

Thanks for posting another Gladwell article. I love his writing, but I don't subscribe to the New Yorker.

lauraNov 01, 2004 at 1:55PM

I wish he hadn't cited killing 15 men as an instance of traumatic experience. Surely it must have been more traumatic for the families of those killed! I mean, it seems to me the reason the happy ending isn't convincing today is simply because a character forgetting about war brutality *he* committed and going back to live a happy family life like nothing happened looks hypocrite and amoral. Because rationalising violence in war is no longer an unchallenged value. I think the dissonance between the approaches in the two novels has more to do with politics than a supposed pessimism about human resilience. The watershed is Vietnam and the protests.

It is true human resilience is stronger than what we think, but that's because until we experience trauma, we never know how we're going to deal with it. And it so depends on what the traumatic experience is. It's easier to get over traumas in childhood than later in life.

Trudy W. SchuettNov 01, 2004 at 1:55PM

I think that as a society, we are far too engaged with the idea that "outside help" is some sort of magic bullet that will make out troubles go away. People forget that there is a lot of work needed from the client or patient, and in some cases, depending on the therapy, all this help does is keep the trauma uppermost in the sufferer's mind.

It's good that somebody recognizes that there is an amazing source of inner strength in most people -- but they don't recognize it until they need it!

michaelNov 01, 2004 at 4:20PM

I think Gladwell greatly underplays the implicit message in the alcoholism evident in the Grey Flannel
Suit - that he actually uses as the lede to his story. I'd have to read the book again to be sure, but when I
read it a dozen years ago, that's what really stood out for me - that generation of men pretended that they
really were OK when in fact their behaviour in many ways demonstrated quite the opposite.

Alex MicekNov 01, 2004 at 4:51PM

Great article, I even brought it into my psychology class on a whim. I'll tell you what my professor thinks when I hear back ...

In regards to Kip's comment: I've locked people out of commenting on my site more than once every fifteen minutes using IP so I believe it would be possible to allow editing by tying comments to IP. I can't remember if PHP gethostbyname($REMOTE_ADDR) code is spoofable or not, so I would tie a "set password for editing" field to each IP; that would guarantee that only the person who wrote the comment could edit it. Then again, if you are using MovableType for comments, all this could be a difficult task. Perhaps someone has written a plugin?

BenDec 04, 2004 at 9:56AM

In the Dec 6 issue of the New Yorker, David Spiegel mentions several flaws of Gladwell's primary source, the meta-analysis by Rind et al.
1. only college students (resilient enough to go to higher education)
2. distress attributed to disruptive families, not abuse
3. trivialized connection between abuse and long-term psychological effects
He, similar to michael's comment on Nov 1, also writes about Tom Rath's alcoholism.

Betsy Seifter mentions further effects of childhood traumata, which I'm not fully able to understand. It seems that the "persistence of traumatic memories" goes deeper than Gladwell, in his tendency to be overexcited about one information source, shows. These comments by New Yorker readers make the whole piece seem unreflected.

PS: (off-topic) And I, like the other person I did the test with, was more than capable of doing repeated correct guessings in the coke/pepsi triangle test (see

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.