BOOKS: The Tipping Point: How little things can make a difference

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2005:

The Tipping Point: How little things can make a difference by
Malcolm Gladwell
Back Bay Books (1271 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020),
2002. 280 pages, paperback. $14.95.

“Listen! My children and you shall hear
of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
Twas the 18th of April in ’75.
Hardly a man is now alive
who remembers that famous day and year.”

So begins William Wadsworth Longfellow’s immortal poem about
Paul Revere’s ride, and so begins this profoundly absorbing book by
Malcolm Gladwell.
At the same time that Paul Revere rode forth to “spread the
alarm, to every Middlesex village and farm, / for the country folk to
be up and to arm,” William Dawes set out to carry the same message.
Yet Dawes’ role is little remembered, whereas in Revere’s case,
“the sparks struck out by the steed in his flight / kindled a nation
to flame with its heat.”
Even less remembered is the third rider, Dr. Samuel
Prescott, who was actually the first of the three men to reach

Gladwell suggests that Revere won the most historical note through
the combination of three fundamentals: the prestige of the
messenger, the importance of the message, and the social context of
the enterprise.
Revere had the strongest previous association with the
American independence movement. Further, while Gladwell and
Prescott fulfilled their missions by stealth, riding as quietly and
evasively to their assigned destinations as possible, Revere alerted
everyone he could along the way, enlisting the entire countryside as
fellow messengers. He was eventually arrested, but only after
amplifying the alarm in all directions.
The term “tipping point” refers to the threshold in all
trends, epidemics, enterprises, and social movements when whatever
is happening gains sufficient momentum that it can no longer be
suppressed. Gladwell argues that often a trend needs only the
smallest of nudges to push it over the critical threshold.
Gladwell defines three categories of people who have the
necessary influence to supply that nudge:
Connectors, who are influential people with a large network of
relevant acquaintances; Mavens, knowledgeable people who are
repositories of relevant information and intellectual capacity; and
Salespeople, who take that knowledge and present it in a way that
appeals to the relevant market.
In an afterword, Gladwell comments upon the conventional
ways of spreading an important message, as well as the New Economy
methods such as the Internet, and suggests that today, the
information overload is so great that people more and more rely upon
old-fashioned word of mouth for advice.
The relevant question for animal advocates is how to move the
animal rights movement past the tipping point, so that the goals
achieve broad cultural acceptance.
Gladwell relates how the preacher John Wesley established the
Methodist Church, riding thousands of miles a year to establish the
network of churches that eventually became the United Methodists.
Wesley, writes Gladwell, “was a classic Connector. He was
a super Paul Revere. The difference is, though, that he wasn’t one
person with ties to many other people. He was one person with ties
to many groups, which is a small but critical distinction. Wesley
realized that if you wanted to bring about a fundamental change in
people’s beliefs and behavior, a change that would persist and serve
as an example to others, you needed to create a community around
them, where those new beliefs could be practiced and expressed and
So rehabilitation centers and animal shelters should be far
more than mere facilities for animals: they should become centers of
communities where AR beliefs can be “practiced and expressed and
To some extent animal welfare groups have coalesced into
communities. But the failure of large animal welfare institutions to
reach the tipping point needed to carry the concept of animal rights
into the mainstream may have something to do with what Gladwell calls
“the 150 rule.” This is the loss of cohesion and efficiency which
mysteriously manifests itself in most social organisations and
businesses when the figure of 150 employees is exceeded. In our own
experience, the larger the animal welfare institution, the less
effective is the expenditure of funds.
So let us apply Gladwell’s three fundamentals to animal
rights. There is widespread acceptance of the notion that ethical
people have a moral duty to avoid inflicting suffering upon sentient
beings, but even people who are sensitive to the needs of animals
are apathetic and need to be roused to action.
The social context of animal rights, meaning how the issue
is framed and perceived, is often not conducive to the growth of the
Mainstream support for animal rights at present amounts
mostly to an amorphous pool of goodwill which has yet to be
mobilized. Clearly what are needed are more Connectors, Mavens,
and Salespeople with credibility and influence.
–Chris Mercer

Editor’s note:

William Dawes was as well-known and well-respected around
Boston in 1776 as Paul Revere, but he did not have a memorable dog.
Paul Revere’s dog made the difference.
Paul Revere in his memoirs wrote that when the need arose for
him to make his famous ride, on April 18, 1775, he was caught
without his spurs, on the wrong side of the British troops. He sent
his dog home through the soldiers with a note to his wife, and back
the dog came, the spurs tied to her collar.
The dog then drove back the redcoats when they tried to seize
Revere for alleged drunken horseback riding, and raced on ahead to
awaken Lexington and Concord to hear Revere’s alarm.
Revere was so grateful for the rather small brown dog’s help that
he included the dog in the foreground of his famous engraving of the
Boston Massacre.
With all due respect to the horses who carried Dawes,
Revere, and Prescott, the most remarkable horse story involved in
the subsequent relay to spread the word throughout the 13 Colonies
was probably the ride of of Sybil Ludington, whose 16th birthday was
April 5, 1776.
“On April 26, 1777, a messenger reached the Ludington house
with news of Governor William Tryon’s attack on Danbury,
Connecticut, some 15 miles to the southeast, where the munitions
and stores for the militia of the entire region were stored. Colonel
Ludington began immediately to organize the local militia,” states
the web site <>. “The messenger
and his horse being exhausted, Sybil volunteered to rouse the
countryside. Through the night the 16-year-old girl rode her horse
nearly 40 miles on unfamiliar roads around Putnam county, spreading
the alarm.”
A 40-mile ride over icy, muddy roads on a cold New England
spring night would be an outstanding feat of endurance for any person
and any horse, even today.
Ludington’s life and mission depended upon her horse, and the
horse rewarded her confidence.

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