Please answer the following question about Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. We always wonder how some individuals react to situations that make them heroes like the fireman who ran into the burning building or the ER doctor who operated in the nick of time. Is the ability to control or master one’s reactions in moments of extreme stress and arousal an skill that is accessible? Are you intrigued to practice and believe it is something you could improve?
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In Chapter 6 of Blink, Malcolm Gladwell clearly argues that the ability to control one’s reactions in a time of great stress is an accessible skill. Gladwell gives multiple examples of people who have been taught to react with greater calm in stressful situations. His examples, along with examples from my own life, make me believe that it is certainly possible to gain this skill. In theory, I would be intrigued to see how I do in such situations and whether I could improve my performance. In practice, I am not sure it would be worth the time and effort since I (like most people) am not very likely to be placed in a high-pressure situation of this sort.
In Chapter 6 of Blink, Gladwell discusses (among other things) police shootings. He contrasts the police officers in the Diallo case with an unnamed officer who had been involved in many high-stress situations. He describes the way in which the unnamed officer was able to pay attention to the details of how a young boy was drawing his gun and how the boy’s face looked. The officer was able to read the face and the gun’s movements and to determine that he was not in danger and did not need to shoot the boy. By contrast, the officers in the Diallo case were inexperienced and did not take their time in reacting to what was happening in that situation. Clearly, the unnamed officer’s ability to control his reactions had been honed through experience.
I have certainly experienced situations in my life that make me believe that we can learn to control our reactions. I have not been in life-threatening situations but I have been in many situations involving sports where there was extreme tension. In situations where I was playing a sport in which I had little experience, or where I needed to use a skill that I had not really mastered, I have been very nervous and have become clumsy and inept. By contrast, when put in high-pressure situations in a sport at which I am good, or in which I need to use a skill that is one of my strengths, I have been able to react calmly and well. This is clearly an example of being able to control my reactions through practice.
I think that it is very clear that we can achieve better control of our reactions to stress if we practice. I would like to be able to practice enough to be certain that I would react well under stress. However, I do not think that I actually would practice because it would most likely be a waste of time since I am not likely to ever be in a life-threatening situation.
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