Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

by Malcolm Gladwell
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How is ethos used in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking?

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Basically, throughout this book, Malcolm Gladwell establishes an authoritative tone, revealing himself and his own personality and trustworthiness to the reader; as a result, he creates ethos.

By the way, let’s get clear on this: what is ethos? It’s a strong, trustworthy reputation, something authors attempt to build as a...

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Basically, throughout this book, Malcolm Gladwell establishes an authoritative tone, revealing himself and his own personality and trustworthiness to the reader; as a result, he creates ethos.

By the way, let’s get clear on this: what is ethos? It’s a strong, trustworthy reputation, something authors attempt to build as a means of bolstering their arguments and persuading their audience.

As another educator has already explained, Malcolm Gladwell calls on various authorities to lend credibility to his argument, a powerful way to build ethos.

But citing other authorities is just one way to create ethos. Another way is for the author to present himself or herself as a trustworthy person. As the argument expert Jay Heinrichs put it, ethos “employs the persuader’s personality, reputation, and ability to look trustworthy” (emphasis added).

So, let’s check out how Gladwell presents himself as an authority, someone you can trust, someone with a good personality and a reliable reputation.

Check out the introduction to the text, titled “The Statue That Didn’t Look Right.” Right away, Gladwell captures our interest with an engaging and true story. He captivates us with the description of the statue and its value:

It stood close to seven feet tall. It had a kind of light-colored glow that set it apart from other ancient works. It was an extraordinary find. Becchina’s asking price was just under $10 million.

Notice how his writing is clear, error-free, and exciting, with careful attention to parallelism and repetition (“It stood… It had… It was…”) as well as the reporting of precise details (“seven feet tall,” “light-colored glow,” “Becchina’s,” “$10 million”).

This guy knows what he’s talking about.

Gladwell maintains that authoritative tone, that powerful storytelling persona, throughout the text. The result? Ethos. We trust him, so we believe him.

There’s more, though! Look out for how Gladwell references himself directly, his own insights and experiences. He even reveals his shortcomings, then shows how he overcame them and achieved understanding. Here’s an example, and you can bet it builds ethos:

I hadn’t realized how much of an issue this was until I tried thin-slicing couples myself. I got one of Gottman’s tapes, which had on it ten three-minute clips of different couples talking. Half the couples, I was told, split up at some point in the fifteen years after their discussion was filmed. Half were still together. Could I guess which was which? I was pretty confident I could. But I was wrong. I was terrible at it. I answered five correctly, which is to say that I would have done just as well by flipping a coin.

My difficulty arose from the fact that the clips were utterly overwhelming.

Finally, notice how Gladwell often uses the words "we," "us," and "our," placing himself alongside us, the readers, treating us as equals, as in this sentence:

Whenever we meet someone for the first time, whenever we interview someone for a job, whenever we react to a new idea, whenever we’re faced with making a decision quickly and under stress, we use that second part of our brain.

What a sneaky way to build ethos! Whenever he does this, Gladwell is playing the kindly professor, the authority on matters who is friendly and good-natured enough to place his arm around our shoulders—metaphorically—and speak to us as if we were his intellectual protégés. That is some truly expert ethos-building.

Let's sum that up. Not only does Gladwell cite outside authorities to build ethos, but he also presents himself as an authority: as a savvy storyteller, as a man of insight and experience, and as a knowledgeable teacher who treats his students with respect and kindness.

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Ethos involves convincing the audience of the authority or credibility of the person making an argument. Gladwell uses a great number of authorities to buttress his arguments. For example, in the "Introduction," he writes about the psychologist Timothy D. Wilson, author of the book Strangers to Ourselves. Gladwell uses Wilson as an authority about how much information the mind collects in the unconscious, which is one of the premises of Gladwell's book. Gladwell cites Wilson's training as a psychologist and the title of Wilson's book to make Wilson more credible and to appeal to the reader's sense of ethos. In Chapter One, Gladwell cites the research of John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington, to again build a sense of credibility--in this case, about the ability of researchers to understand a marriage by looking at a short videotape of the married couple interacting. Throughout his book, Gladwell cites authorities in different fields to buttress his argument.

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