We make decisions in 'Blink,' writes Gladwell

Tri-City HeraldOctober 1, 2012 

As the burly man strolled past our fast-food restaurant table, I glanced up and then — "abuser" popped into mind.

Where had that thought come from? But, within minutes of his joining the young family nearby, my intuitive assessment proved spot-on as he proceeded to verbally abuse and threaten.

How did I know? It was something I couldn't explain — and still ponder many years later. But since that time, I've learned to listen to my gut feelings.

Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell writes in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking that his book is about the glance — those first two seconds — when part of our brain makes an intuitive judgment. This unconscious thought acts "as a kind of giant computer that quickly and quietly processes a lot of the data we need in order to keep functioning as human beings."

Among a number of things, it can warn us of danger.

It was May of last year when I was in California to help longtime friends Jeanne and Reuben into assisted living. Because of the urgency of their situation, they had left behind a great deal of their belongings.

Shortly after their move, real estate agents began showing the house to prospective buyers who toured through — and between — a plethora of items, some quite valuable, that would eventually go to the new apartment.

It was early evening when I drove into the two-car garage, the heavy door closing behind me. An easy entry into the spacious two-story home was through an unlocked kitchen door that opened into the garage.

My footsteps echoed in the quiet while I hurriedly perused the downstairs cupboards, china cabinet and shelves, adding any last remaining items to the group for the estate sale. The work had become almost routine after many evenings sorting alone in the house.

In the dusk I headed upstairs, determined to clean out the huge cupboards on the open landing that connected with a sizable master suite at one end and a generous second floor study on the other. Opening the first cabinet door, I had just begun to systematically sift through sheets, towels and other linens when I stopped short.

Suddenly, an unexplainable fear gripped me, the back of my neck tingling.

In a split-second decision, my heart racing, I ran down the stairs, through the kitchen door and out to the car as the garage door rose. Pedal to the floor, my sweaty palms gripping the steering wheel, I sped to my elderly friends' apartment.

On another day — I never went alone again — we discovered an outside door had been left unlocked.

I suspect that may be why my subconscious had me out of there in a blink — and possibly, why I'm here to tell the story.

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