The Tipping Point: Reading Guide – Chapter Four

The Power of Context (Part One)

17. Is Bernie Goetz a cold-blooded murderer or a heroic vigilante?

18. The Power of context infers that epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur. Are certain individuals more sensitive to their environment than others? Think of examples of behavior as a function of social context. How often or to what extent does the environment dictate your behavior i.e. your conduct when at the opera versus being at a baseball game?

19. The Broken Windows Theory argues that crime is the inevitable result of disorder. It suggests that crime is contagious. Do you agree or do you think this risks excusing a criminal’s culpability?

20. Most conservative theories say that the criminal is a personality type whereas the Broken Windows theory and Power of Context suggest the opposite — the criminal is actually someone acutely sensitive to his environment and who is prompted to commit crimes based on his perceptions of the world around him. Which theory do you believe?

21. With the subway example, the problem of farebeating snowballed because people joined in after watching others do it. Are humans instinctively conformists who mimic the behavior they see around them?

22. The experiment led by Zimbardo, where they looked at why prisons are such nasty places, they showed that specific situations are so powerful that they overwhelm our inherent predispositions. If we improved the living conditions in prisons, do you believe it could impact on inmates’ behavior?

23. How does one explain certain exceptional figures like Gandhi and Mandela who were subject to the most brutal and atrocious conditions yet immerged seemingly uncorrupted?

24. The essence of the Power of Context is that our inner states are the result of our outer circumstances. But then, how does this work with or against the idea that our inner states ultimately create our outer world — that perception is reality or that if we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change?