I appreciated Professor Dan Blinka’s thoughtful post on the book Outliers. The book begins with a quote from the book of Matthew in the New Testament: “For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance. But from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” Matthew 25:29. Malcolm Gladwell refers to this quote in the title of the first chapter as the “Matthew Effect.”
This passage from Matthew always makes me squirm, because it doesn’t seem to square with another famous passage from the Bible that “the meek shall inherit the earth.” Gladwell’s first chapter similarly made me slightly uncomfortable, because it suggests boldly that such undeniably unfair factors as the month into which a person is born may determine whether they end up as a professional hockey player. Gladwell may well be right, and his insight is in its own way stunning, but it still makes someone who likes to be in control of his or her own destiny feel suddenly out of control.
I had a brush with the Matthew Effect this December that gave me pause to consider another way of looking at the passage from Matthew 25:29. My sister-in-law Patty invited me to join her for a yoga class at the new Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center at the Mayo Clinic. Dan Abraham, the founder of SlimFast, and a Mayo Clinic devotee, donated the facility for Mayo employees to exercise. The Dan Abraham has to be one of the most state-of-the-art exercise facilities in the world. In any event, while I was amazed at the facility itself, it’s what I saw of the people in the building that amazed me even more. People didn’t just trudge in to the yoga class to fulfill their daily exercise regimen, they entered with smiles on their faces. After the class, the participants milled around chatting about how the class inspired them. Many thanked the instructor. Caught up in the positive energy, I was hooked on the Dan Abraham. I begged Patty to bring me back the next morning for a spin class. Before, during, and after the spin class, I watched for the same attitude and behavior that I saw from the participants in the yoga class. I was not disappointed. The spin class participants seemed eager and joyful in taking on each hill and cranking up the resistance on their bikes. After the class, a number of participants introduced themselves to the instructor and thanked him.
My point in telling this story is that it seemed to me that the employees at the Mayo Clinic, many of whom are arguably outliers in medicine and science, had the right attitude. They approached even a simple task like exercise with “joyful concentration,” to use a phrase that my ASP leader Joan Shepard came up with when I told her this story. I would expect to see this attitude at the Clinic itself, where the employees are “on” at work, but here they were removed from the Clinic. I had a chance to watch them participating in a rather personal moment in a separate facility, where they did not know that an outsider was observing them. It may be that an abundance of good attitude enables certain talented individuals to concentrate better, gain more insights and be more creative, and ultimately distinguish themselves from the rest of an otherwise talented fold. And hence, the Matthew Effect: he or she who has, will gain more.
This point brings me to the Health and Wellness Fair at the Law School. Lawyers, like doctors (or anyone else), need to cultivate their health at all times to be able to perform at their peak. The Health and Wellness Fair is an excellent way to learn more about healthy mindfulness and physical well being.