Fallacy: To Know Better is to Do Better
Pragya Agarwal, in her book, Sway Unraveling Unconscious Bias, explains through research from various disciplines, real stories, and scientific theories the unintentional biases we all experience. Dr. Agarwal demonstrates where the biases come from, how they affect our perspectives and decision-making, and most importantly, why it is necessary to unlearn them. In her book, she distinguishes between explicit bias (which is purposeful) and implicit bias (which is at the unconscious level). Implicit bias is the more challenging to recognize as it has been developed over a person’s lifetime and has attributes that stem from the human evolutionary process. Dr. Agarwal’s book is a worthwhile read and certainly belongs in my library – but at the end of the day – what do I do with this not-so-new information? Three things came to mind that I’ll summarize in the remainder of my blog.
The first is a point from Dushaw Hockett, a speaker from TEDX MidAtlanticSalon. His topic was “We All Have Implicit Biases.” He encouraged the listeners to move from “emergency room treatment of implicit bias to preventative care.” His research shows that we are attempting to treat racial biases based on explicit biases in this country. While dealing with explicit biases is necessary, the lack of treatment of our implicit biases keeps this country from moving forward. We wait for the next eruption or emergency before we take action. And the action taken is to talk about or treat the explicit bias. This action is synonymous with treating the symptom rather than the root cause. We overlook the culprit causing most of the problems – in this case, it is our implicit bias. Those beliefs, based on implicit biases, “run contrary to our stated conscious beliefs.”
The second point I’ve pondered is that Dr. Agarwal, other behavioral scientists, and mental health professionals’ research indicates that implicit bias can be unlearned. Still, it takes a lot of self-work. According to Dr. Agarwal, the unconscious bias is based on System 1 thinking. This is the same System 1 thinking we learned about from Kahneman. It is unconscious and happens naturally. So how do we uproot our implicit biases? It is my opinion that first, each person must find a ‘why’. For example, many overweight people or people in a financial crisis have probably read every diet book or budgeting best seller. It’s not that they often don’t know what to do. They have yet to find a reason to do it that’s important to them – a why. Additionally, uprooting implicit biases is not only hard work; in some cases, it goes against family traditions and may cause alienation from social groups. So there’s a lot at stake to uncover implicit biases and unlearn them. Therefore, a ‘why’ will provide a benefit greater than the perceived risk associated with unlearning implicit biases.
This brings me to my last point. Assuming that finding a ‘why’ is integral to uncovering and unlearning implicit biases, then it would be difficult for people who do not know Christ to succeed. In this case, finding the ‘why’ cannot come from within because of humankind’s sinful nature- tribalist, fearful, and sometimes hateful. The ‘why,’ in this case, has to result from a belief in something higher than what we could ever imagine. God wanted a family of multi-ethnically diverse and multi-colored people who are co-heirs and equal in Christ and who love him by loving each other. As Pastor Derwin Gray writes in his book, How To Heal Our Racial Divide, “Our ethnic differences are not obliterated; in Christ, they are celebrated…Our socioeconomic differences, in Christ, become a pathway to mutual learning and cooperation…Our male/female differences are not blurred or erased; in Christ, they are embraced and complement one another to bring glory to God.”
In closing, in Christ, we have the key to unlocking and overcoming explicit and implicit biases. However, rather than provide the world with an alternate reality of how to live and love, the Church is once again missing in action. Sadly, we have regulated our Savior lower than our System 1 thinking.
 Dushaw Hockett, We All Have Implicit Biases, TedXMidAtlanticSalon, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKHSJHkPeLY
 Pragya Agarwal, Sway Unraveling Unconscious Bias (Dublin: Bloomsbury Sigma, 2021), 29.
 Derwin L. Gray, How To Heal Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says, And The First Christians Knew, About Racial Reconciliation, (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2022), 43.
10 responses to “Fallacy: To Know Better is to Do Better”
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Audrey, thank you for sharing. I think finding the “why” is important, but also not the whole of it. To take your example of weight loss. For me, I can come up with they why, but I am also fighting against my biology, habits, ingrained thinking, and health insurance. It is not as simple as knowing why I want to lose weight, reading the right book, or joining the right program. I can retrain my brain to overcome the negative thought patterns instilled by my upbringing. I can learn new habits. But I am still fighting against dealing with my biology – a thyroid disorder, low growth hormone, and migraines. I am still fighting an insurance company that does not want to approve needed medication to help me.
As you said, “Sadly, we have regulated our Savior lower than our System 1 thinking.” We are fighting against a sinful, fallen nature. We are fighting against free will – in ourselves and in others. Without putting our trust in Jesus, what hope do we have?
Becca, a point well taken about finding a ‘why’ is not all there is to be able to address implicit biases.
In my attempt to save on words, I did oversimplify things. I do think that for many people it is about the ‘why’ and then there are those that have major obstacles to overcome even after finding a ‘why’.
Thank you for sharing and reminding me that there are other considerations to think about.
After thought. Becca, as I thought more about your response, you are one of the most organized and focused individuals I know – and not having a ‘why’ in no way applies to you. (Excuse the double negatives.) In my humble opinion, a person who does not have a ‘why’ seldom takes real action.
So true Audrey. Without the “why” people do not even try. My Life Coach always reminds me to “keep my why close by.” We need to understand what we are fighting against and why we should fight. When it comes to racism, I fight against my upbringing – living in a suburban, white community with racist parents. Why do I fight, because God tells me to love all people, not just the ones who look like me.
“you are one of the most organized and focused individuals I know – and not having a ‘why’ in no way applies to you.” Thank you for this. It is not easy facing size bias, especially when most people do not know my struggles or what I have overcome. I appreciate you.
Audrey – what an interesting post. Thank you for pulling in Dushaw Hockett and the observation about “preventive care” for implicit bias. In summary of his work, you stated, “His research shows that we are attempting to treat racial biases based on explicit biases in this country. While dealing with explicit biases is necessary, the lack of treatment of our implicit biases keeps this country from moving forward.” Can you say more about this? It seems to me that while we are working toward “external equality,” we are overlooking the heart-issues. How might this be addressed? Is this something that will be factored into your NPO?
Chad, good questions as always. First, what is keeping this country from moving forward is primarily the implicit biases. People who insist they are color-blind or have no biases are in denial and in a subconscious way upholding the systemic infrastructure of racism.
Secondly, you are correct that “external equality” does not address heart issues. One of the reasons why my NPO focuses on how the Church wrestles with explicit and implicit biases is because that is the one place where real heart change is possible. If the Church can get this right i.e. unlearning implicit biases, then perhaps the next step could be in leading the way in transforming culture. I hope that makes sense.
I appreciated this “His research shows that we are attempting to treat racial biases based on explicit biases in this country. While dealing with explicit biases is necessary, the lack of treatment of our implicit biases keeps this country from moving forward.” I could not agree more. When I talk about racism most people think I mean the external, extreme examples of racism but more often than not it is the implicit biases I am talking about. The National Institutes of Health says “Implicit bias is a form of bias that occurs automatically and unintentionally, that nevertheless affects judgments, decisions, and behaviors.” Racial biases, especially implicit ones are a barrier that we need to overcome but it’s hard for us to have that conversation in this climate.
Audrey – Thank you for inserting the importance of having a “why” to drive any effort to reduce the implicit bias we have in our lives. You made me think about what my “why” would be. I believe it would be about wanting to see others the way God sees them. And you’re right. I definitely need the Holy Spirit’s help to do this!
A “why” is so helpful! My project faculty, Dr. Hamilton made us give her a “why” statement for our research and it was helpful as a driving force to continue even as things are getting difficult.
Knowing why his been very helpful in many different in finding many solutions and answers. Even though we will never agree one hundred percent, I believe knowing why we act and feel certain ways can educate us. Education to new knowledge key to better decisions. What are some of the “why’s” you think christians should be educated on?
Great post as usual. Which one of the two biases do you find more challenging, explicit, or implicit?