Late this summer, I was sitting at a local music venue and pub having a burger with a girlfriend when she got up to talk to an older gentlemen at the next table. She waved me over and introduced me to Bill Osborne, a composer. After a few minutes of conversation I could clearly tell this was a special man who was sensitive, thoughtful and kind—or at least I thin-sliced him that way. Soon enough his wife Abbie came up in conversation. She was in Germany at the time, playing in an orchestra there and it was apparent from the tone in his voice that he missed her very much. He had this adoring look in his eye when her name was mentioned.
So, you can imagine my surprise while reading Blink to have Gladwell use the example of Abbie Conant’s story as a lesson on how our stereotyping brain mechanism has real effects in our working and private lives (245-54). The example of Conant and her struggle comes in the conclusion of the book where Gladwell lays out his final argument. Many previous examples are interesting or thought provoking. But, with the exception of the “Seven Seconds in the Bronx” passage (chapter six), for me as a reader, few really hit home in a “real world” sense in the way Conant’s story does. As one student pointed out in my previous post “Taming the Thin-Slice,” women and minorities fall under the wheel of dangerous assumptions most frequently.
The Conant example is so blatant because the audition process was done “blind” (so to speak) and then the hierarchy of the orchestra committee rebelled against their own instincts in favor of their assumptions and prejudices. In a sense, they chose to not rely on their instincts but rather to re-affirm their culturally biased snap-judgments. Here, two thin-slices came into conflict with one another and the fall out was drastic. As Gladwell mentions, it took “eight years, (and) she was reinstated as first trombone.” In that eight years she was subjected to the tests, the challenges and the legal battles that would finally enable her to do the job she was already highly qualified for. Ultimately it would take thirteen years before she was able to do her job and receive equal pay for it (248).
As the previous two posts by Professors Smith and Whittingham address, there is a relationship between using the intelligence of our brains when they thin-slice and the intelligence that also comes from gathering information. But, how do we define this relationship? How do we use the combination effectively? How do learn to make the distinction rationally and consciously like the car salesman? (88-96).
Many would argue that race and gender continue to be major factors of prejudice in society, workplaces and academic settings. Conant chose to turn her struggle into a movement, a way for the music community to recognize its flaws and get more women and minorities playing. You can see her website here: www.osborne-conant.org
Your job: Read one of the articles posted on Conant’s site addressing the topic of equality and respond/relate it to your thoughts on Gladwell’s interpretation. Do you think significant enough changes have been made in the music community? How large a role do you see race and gender playing in the workplace, social settings or schools? Or, do you even agree that race and gender play a significant role in our decision making process when it comes to other people?