A while ago I was scrolling through YouTube, and I came across a very interesting ted talk by Malcolm Gladwell. He was talking about the story of David and Goliath and how sometimes gross oversimplification of some important stories can lead us to draw the wrong conclusions about certain things. We’ve all heard the story of David and Goliath before, today I want us to take a deeper dive.
Just for clarity, the David and Goliath Story we’re used to goes as follows:
The once was a shepherd boy called David, who tended his father’s sheep. Whenever a wild animal like a lion or bear tried to attack the sheep, David would use his sling and stone to kill the beast. One day, David went to the battlefield to bring food to his brothers, who were fighting against the philistines. When he got there, he heard Goliath taunting the Israelites, and decides to fight him. So they take him to King Saul, who gives David some way too heavy armour and weapons. David rejects these and chooses to go with just his sling and five smooth stones. David goes to Goliath, a teeming giant who has been trained since childhood, whirls his sling round and round, and hits Goliath right in the forehead, the only vulnerable spot in his armour. In the end, Israel wins because the underdog beat the giant. Right?
But let’s take a closer look.
David wasn’t a helpless little boy, We know he was an experienced slinger. He’d killed predators with his sling in the past. When I say sling, don’t mistake it for a slingshot. You see, ancient armies had three kinds of warriors: The cavalry – armed men on horseback or in chariots, Infantry – foot soldiers with armour, swords and shields. The third were projectile warriors: archers, and most importantly, slingers. Slingers had a leather pouch attached on two sides by a long strand of rope. They would put a lead ball into the pouch, swing it around again and again and release one end of the rope, hurling the rock forward. In experienced hands, the sling was a devastating weapon. Paintings from medieval times show slingers hitting birds in mid-flight, and in the Old Testament Book of Judges, slingers are described as being accurate within a hair’s breadth. This is just to let you know that David didn’t face Goliath with a child’s toy.
Goliath is heavy infantry, with his close combat spear and sword. He’s expecting that his opponent will also fight in the same manner, but here comes David – who has no intention of fighting hand to hand. David’s plan all along was to fight Goliath the same way he fought the wild animals – as a projectile warrior.
He runs toward Goliath, because without armour he has speed and manoeuvrability. He puts a rock into the sling, whirls it around and around, aiming for Goliath’s forehead. Eitan Hiirsch, a ballistics expert with the Israeli Defence Forces, recently did a series of calculations showing that a typical-size stone hurled by a slinger at a distance of 35m would have hit Goliath’s head with a velocity of 35m/s – more than enough to penetrate his skull and render him unconscious or dead.
What could Goliath do? He was weighed down by heavy armour. He was prepared for a battle at close range, where he could stand, just ward off blows and thrust with his spear. So imagine his surprise when it dawned on him that the battle he was expecting had suddenly changed shape.
David had brought a gun to a knife fight. Goliath didn’t stand a chance. In fact, the historian Robert Dohrenwend writes, “Goliath had as much chance against David, as any Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an opponent armed with a .45 automatic pistol.”
Do you still think of David as the underdog?
See what a slight change in perspective can do? Once we look at the story this way, it stops being about a little boy’s unlikely victory, and becomes a reminder that sometimes what seems like an obvious weakness could be a person’s greatest strength. And at other times, what seems like a valuable strength, like Goliath’s size and armor, may actually be a damaging weakness when the rules are changed. Yet all this time, we thought David was the one more likely to lose, Probably because we thought his age and size were going to prevent him from attaining victory. Well, that was wrong. The problem is that a lot of people make similar errors in judgement today. They look down on others because they’re smaller or younger or quieter or some other primitive method of demonstrating competence. The truth is that under the right conditions, these attributes might be exactly what a person needs in order to win against a goliath. So the next time you look down on yourself or someone else, remember David and Goliath – but from a different perspective.
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