The Dunning-Kruger effect, so named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University, describes a mentality wherein someone rates their knowledge or skill as being well beyond what it actually is. Think of it as the self-assessment that drives men and women completely lacking in musical skill to audition for American Idol, and then be deeply offended and shocked when they are not selected.
We have all known that man or woman who “knows everything,” and has never encountered a task they were unable to master. Often this is just hard-headed arrogance, but other times the self-assessment is a genuinely-held belief. The Dunning-Kruger effect also affects those who actually do possess great skill or understanding, in that those with such levels of competence may tend to assume similar skill and understanding in others who may not possess it at all!
I just witnessed an uncomfortable and sad conversation in which one party was operating on a foundation of certain “facts” which were not facts at all. This foundation of beliefs was built on some personal observation, some direct interaction with the other party, some second and even third-hand information, and a topping of speculation. All of that was thrown into a bowl, mixed thoroughly, and voila, a conclusion was drawn, one which is absolutely factual in the mind of the first party.
We need to be very careful about claiming to know what we think we know, especially when there is any possibility that we may be misinformed, or we may not be accurately perceiving what is right in front of our eyes. Jesus had the following potent exchange with the Pharisees in John 9:39-41.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
The problem wasn’t their blindness. The problem was that they claimed to see what they did not see. It was this claim to see, or to know, that kept them guilty.
Operating on a foundation of assumptions and inaccurate information can be a dangerous and harmful proposition. Thinking I know something I really don’t, sets me up for a fall. From such a vantage point, I can hurt both myself and others.
Paul tells us:
“But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.” 1st Corinthians 8:1b-2
When you are interacting with another man or woman, it is helpful to make a constant assessment of what is driving you, and the effect you are having on the other person. Are you operating from a position of knowledge, or of love? Are you puffed-up (arrogant) or building up? Paul said in 1st Corinthians 14:1, “Let love be your greatest aim,” and Peter said, “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins.” 1st Peter 4:8.
Victoriously in Christ!