The Dunning-Kruger Effect 1 of 2
Mike Phillips, a wonderful pastor I had decades ago once shared 1 of his greatest fears in a conversation we had about scripture. He greatly feared that people would take his word on things, and not look them up for themselves. He was aware that his humanity made him weak, and he couldn’t possibly know everything about everything. As a young Christian, this warning had a lasting impact on me. I have not always carried it out perfectly, but I continue to get better, and it does make a difference!
In the last few weeks, some interesting words I haven’t heard before have rung out in my studies. I did just a bit of looking so I understood the concepts well enough to rattle them off. But they came again from a 2nd source, actually a source in another country, many hours away. When you hear something twice close together, it is often that Holy Spirit is speaking to you with great intent. It’s a Kingdom Opportunity.
What we’re going to talk about is human-general. We’ve all got this problem, and we don’t see it when it manifests. Me, you, and absolutely everybody else. It’s not that we make a conscious choice, but that it is a common stumbling block for mankind that we may see in others, but don’t usually see in ourselves, at least at the time, and without a lot of practice – the kind of practice we haven’t been doing, because we didn’t know.
Our “Illusory Superiority” comes from what was named the “Dunning – Kruger Effect” which, Professor Dunning assured, was not their choice for a name, but it stuck. We all manifest illusory superiority without thinking about it, and without accuracy. On any given subject of interest, most of us believe ourselves much more proficient and/or knowledgeable than we, in fact, are. We actively live in an illusion regarding our own level of expertise, as opposed to that of others in the same area.
For example, the social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger questioned a group of professors and found that 94% of them thought themselves more accomplished than their peers. This is mathematically impossible. But these people honestly believe they are better, it is not a head trip. There are also some interesting studies along the same lines with drivers, who generally, in the U.S., think themselves better than over 90% of other drivers. Again, impossible. There were too many and varied studies to recount. It’s a fact, and it’s a fact about all of us.
While we don’t know what we don’t know; we think we do!
Astoundingly, the exceptions to this rule are generally the people who are most experienced and/or educated in their subject. They become keenly aware of their own short comings by being submerged in the subject or experience over time. Humility shows up when we study hard and realize there is so much to learn, we’ll never totally get there. As Dunning put it “what we know is finite; what we don’t know is infinite.” Unfortunately, we don’t know where our knowledge ends…
Even more astounding is that when we are at incompetent to mid-range levels of knowledge or performance, we believe ourselves quite capable. Arrogance is the human-general default.
Yes, there are real cases of low self-esteem out there, but they tend to be a very low percentile compared to the people who think quite highly of themselves…me, you, and absolutely everybody else.
There’s a really cool graph easily searched out online on the Dunning-Kruger Effect. You should check it out.
So, what are our options? How can we combat an enemy we can’t see? First, we need to remember that just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. This lesson is one that we huckleberry pickers in the Northwest take seriously. You don’t see the grizzly if you’re not looking for it. They blend in…until they’re angry. Then it’s usually too late. So, we assume they are there and make lots of noise before we enter their forest. It’s humble; it assumes there is a problem based on location alone, and it creates an atmosphere where everybody is safer.
What does remembering our weakness look like in the spiritual realm? Bruxy Cavey of The Meeting House in Toronto, Canada, offered some good advice. We need to consider the gifts God has given us. Life is pure grace, not our accomplishments, in 3 wonderful ways.
- Existence: God gave us breath; we did not imbue ourselves with life, nor did we give ourselves anything that God did not bless us with the ability to achieve. All our giftings come from God.
Col 1:16-18 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. NKJV
Ac 17:26-28 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth…for in Him we live and move and have our being… NKJV
- Forgiveness: we didn’t earn it – it has been given at great cost.
Eph 1:7-11 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth — in Him. NKJV
- Renewal: After forgiveness, from baptism and through the many teachings and interventions that Holy Spirit provides on our behalf, we continue to be sanctified, and readied as brides of Christ.
1 Co 6:9-11 But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. NKJV
Bruxy recommended taking just 30 seconds a day to express our gratitude to God for each of them. It is clear that “humility is a disruption to the world’s self-expression…” It will take the world off guard if we are humble instead of displaying Illusory Superiority.
Ro 12:3-16 For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another…Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality…Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. NKJV
Humility grows out of regularly practiced gratitude to God quite naturally. When we fail to make gratitude a practice, that old Dunning-Kruger Effect is out there, ready to pounce as a natural (or “fleshy”) response that we don’t always know we are making.
Are we willing to make the above, 3 step, 30 second prayer a part of our regular talks with God?
Are we willing to submit to one another (Eph 5:21) and ask a trusted friend where our weaknesses here are showing? We can trade off – remember, this is a common issue among us all, so we can be humble as we talk with one another about it.
This is some real spiritual work. Let’s roll up our sleeves!
December 9, 2021