Emotion is Contagious or Shoes That Don’t Fit
In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes:
“The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips and spreads…”
It is a book about big ideas and social change and marketing and the way impact can occur. Like all great books, (non-fiction and fiction, alike) it asks the question, “Why?”
Why do people embrace change in certain circumstances, while most often, we fight it? He examines circumstances and influencers and motivators and catalysts. Late in the book he writes three words that, I believe, answer the “why” question and serve as a micro-summary of the book: “Emotion is contagious.”
EMOTION IS CONTAGIOUS
As I pulled into the parking lot of a Target earlier this week, a woman stood on the grassy island that served as a divider between those entering the parking lot and those leaving. I could see from behind that she held a sign in her hands, and perhaps her hands were trembling even then, though this fact left no impression upon me. No impression was made by the sign and, indeed, no impression was made by the woman herself at all, with such circumstances so common.
Twenty minutes later I was back in my car, behind a long line of traffic waiting for the light to turn so as to continue beyond her to the exit. Approaching, I tried to read what was written on the white poster-board, but it was angled down in such a way that was difficult to see, which itself would have rendered the sign unreadable, even had her hands not been uncontrollably shaking, though they were.
I glanced at her face, then, and noticed a large white bandage on her neck and then my eyes traveled to hers and contact was made. As I passed, there was just enough time for me to absorb her desperation, or her terror, or whatever other emotion was contained on that face and was causing those hands to shake. Within that moment, that single second, she pleaded with me to stop, as she was pleading with all of us to stop.
But the moment passed quickly and I turned away, and pulled onto the road and continued on through the next green light that merged onto the highway.
THE NATURE OF COINCIDENCE AND SHOES THAT DON’T FIT
A few days prior, when returning a pair of shoes that didn’t fit my son, the cashier had asked if I would prefer a cash refund, rather than a debit to my credit card. Typically, my answer would have been “no”, a refund to my card was fine. Transaction complete.
For some reason, I’d said yes.
So it was now that, three miles down the highway, the cash in my wallet occurred to me. I wondered, aloud, if this was the reason I’d accepted a cash refund. I wondered if the moment of eye contact and the desperation of that connection, was somehow linked to my inability to buy shoes that fit my ten-year-old son. I wondered these things as I took the next exit. I thought about coincidence, and decisions, and shoes- too-small, while I turned around, and went back.
THE TIPPING POINT
She was no longer on the divider. In fact, as far as I could see, she was gone altogether.
I circled and found her sitting against a tree twenty feet from the exit. She peered into the grass, the sign face down at her feet. Pulling my car up onto the curb, I rolled the window down and she looked up at me. She appeared calm and was no longer shaking.
The desperation in her eyes had been replaced by something else, so that when I asked, “Can I offer you something?” she merely shook her head and told me that she didn’t know. “I think I can,” I said, and she stood and began to cry. She approached the passenger window and my eyes returned to the large white bandage on her neck as her fingers closed around the twenty-dollar bill.
“Are you sure,” she asked me and I said, yes, I was.
She had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had, in fact, just left the hospital following an operation (the bandage) and now I noticed that she still wore the telltale bracelet. She told me that she’d been standing out here for hours and nobody had stopped. She repeated this several times and then told me that she didn’t know what to do.
I said some things to her. She responded and I said some more things while the light turned green and then red, several times. Behind me the line of traffic had grown significantly but nobody honked. Nobody yelled out of their windows and told me to get out of the way. (If you’ve ever lived or visited the east coast, you’ll understand how spectacular this is). Ultimately, she thanked me and she put the wrinkled paper bill in her pocket. I left.
But then, that’s not the end of it.
Because this time, after turning onto the road, I hit a red light at the highway onramp. Through my rear-view mirror, I watched as each of the cars that had been lined up behind me handed cash to the woman. I counted eight vehicles that stopped, and in whose passenger windows she reached before my light turned green and, once more, I was on the highway.
For those that have read other things I’ve written, you may notice comparable themes. There are correlations that I could draw to leadership principals, happiness and fulfillment. I could sum things up in a way that makes it a post relevant to business and further exploits the nature of the tipping point. Instead, I’ll just reiterate:
Emotion is contagious.