Columnists Mark my words

Please stand by

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

The Dunning-Kruger effect. Ever heard of it?

The term was a new one on me. I’d read a reference to it recently when someone suggested many modern-day people suffer from it . . . and don’t even realize it. I thought that perhaps this might be something related to COVID-19, but I was wrong.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is, according to Kendra Cherry on,  “a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads them to overestimate their own capabilities.” This often leads people to “fail to recognize the genuine skill and expertise of other people.”

If you want to see this effect in action, spend a little time reading through people’s comments on Facebook or listen for a bit to talk radio.

You’ll encounter there many folks who can coach the Chiefs much better than Andy Reid. You’ll hear someone like “Rob,” who failed all of his high school science courses, explain why the pandemic directives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are all wrong. And there’s no shortage of people who are convinced they’re more orthodox and better able to guide the church than Pope Francis.

Thankfully, there is a “vaccine” for the Dunning-Kruger effect, but it’s in short supply apparently. It’s called humility.  Author Karen Marie Moning says it succinctly: “There are three kinds of people in the world: those who don’t know and don’t know they don’t know; those who don’t know and do know they don’t know; and those who know and know how much they still don’t know.”

American preacher Daniel Grey Barnhouse used to tell this wonderful, supposedly true, story about the humility of Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes:

When Hughes moved to Washington to take up his duties as chief justice, he transferred his membership to a Baptist church in the area. It was a custom for all new members to come to the front of the sanctuary at the close of the worship service.

The first to be called that morning was Ah Sing, a Chinese laundryman who had moved to the capital from the West Coast. He took his place at the far side of the church. As the dozen or so other people were called forward, they stood at the opposite side of the church, leaving Sing standing alone. But when Chief Justice Hughes was called, he took his place beside the laundryman.

Seeing this, the minister turned and said, “I do not want this congregation to miss this remarkable illustration of the fact that at the cross of Jesus Christ the ground is level.”

Barnhouse added: “Mr. Hughes behaved like a true Christian. He took his place beside the laundryman and, by this act, prevented embarrassment to the humble Chinese man; he showed, too, the love of Christ — he had this gift of standing by.” (Story found in “Illustrations Unlimited,” edited by James S. Hewett.)

What a powerful and humble image of Jesus that is: the gift of standing by. It seems that everywhere we look, there’s a drive to divide and alienate people. Everyone knows better than everyone else and insists that “it’s my way or the highway.” I’d propose that we Christians take that “high way,” the way of humility, the way of standing by.

 Let’s work to bring people together by standing by those who promote the way of peace, unity and understanding. Let’s stand by all who pursue justice for those who have no voice or whose voices go unheard. Let’s stand by those who are hungry, poor or homeless — the overlooked and forgotten people in our society. Let’s stand by those who are sick — whether in body, mind or soul.

Honestly, most of us have very little idea of how much it really means when we stand by another, especially someone who is hurting in some way.  A card of condolence at the death of a loved one, a phone call to someone struggling during this pandemic, a nice tip to someone delivering your curbside order, a warm smile and encouraging word to a cashier or a grocery store stocker, some tomatoes or sweet corn left outside the door of a neighbor — all of these small actions help bring us together and make visible the love of Jesus.

Just remember, though, if your “standing by” actually does happen in person, please wear a mask and keep social distancing. After all, you don’t want to spread the Dunning-Kruger effect!

About the author

Fr. Mark Goldasich

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    • Thank you so much, Diana! Your comment made my day! I hope that you’ve been staying healthy and happy during this crazy year of 2020. Have a great rest of the summer.