Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Looks Can Deceive

Written by: on April 27, 2022

Perception is reality.  Well at least that was the worldview of the leadership of a church I served in Pennsylvania.  It was perception that partially led to my firing.  I do not like this idea that reality is grounded on perception.  Reading Hans Rosling’s Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think has offered me “facts” as to why I have rebelled against “perceptions”.

Rosling was a physician by way of formal education, but his worldview was shaped by his fascination for circus performers, especially the Sword Swallowers. He spent many a year attempting to accomplish this feat.  It was not until he came across an actual sword swallower as a patient that he learned the secret to the art; “Don’t you know the throat is flat? You can only slide flat things down there.  That is why you use a sword.”[1] Rosling’s beguilement with this circus act was the heart and soul of his pursuit to help people enlarge their worldview. He saw how often humans get tripped up by ignorance, laziness, and lack of imagination. “Sword swallowing has always shown that the seemingly impossible can be possible, and inspired humans to think beyond the obvious.”[2]

Rosling, along with his son and daughter-in-law, make a case in Factfulness for humans ability to understand the world completely wrong through our proclivity to perceive it by way of our instincts. Instead of engaging, what Kahenman calls our System 2 part of the brain, or take the effort to think through facts/information (or like Chivers and Chivers offer in How to Read Numbers) humans impulsively react to issues out of one or more of the 10 instincts they present in Factfulness. Reminicent of Sway, Molecule of More, and Thinking Fast and Slow, Rosling’s goal was to offer a road map of how and why humans dramatic instincts create overdramatic worldviews.[3] Rosling offers skills at the end of each instinct chapter for those “willing to change your worldview; if you are ready for critical thinking to replace instinctive reaction”[4] to help course correct one’s perception.

Factfulness has been a helpful capstone to this year of reading.  The essence of this book has tied together the meaning making elements of leadership identity.  The chapter that challenged me the most was the 5, The Size Instinct.   Rosling tells the story of serving in Nacala as the sole doctor.[5]  He shares the struggle of the choices he had to make when caring for the young children that arrived in the hospital.  He spent each counting the deaths of children. When a friend of his arrives for a visit, an argument erupts between them concerning the care Rosling provided for the child right in front of him.  Rosling’s friend believed it was more important to expend all energy and resources to care for the child that is in front of him. Rosling’s argument was that would be a waste of resources, instead it is more ethical to use resources on preventative care; to attend to the children and families before deadly illness occurs. Rosling’s point, “Paying too much attention to the individual visible victim rather than to the numbers can lead us to spend all our resources on a fraction of the problem, and therefore save many fewer lives.  This principle applies anywhere we are prioritizing scarce resources.”[6]

I begin my new call on Sunday.  One issue I know I will be working on is the conflict over their endowment fund.  I imagine one aspect of this conflict centers on fear of scarcity and the protection of the size of the fund. As I begin to plan my leadership around this issue I am realizing that Rosling is Friedman’s wingman.  While I work to remain a self-differentiated leader in the midst of an anxious system stuck in at least one of Rolings’s instincts, these two authors offer me a more full, and hopefully factful worldview as I help the congregation navigate their anxiety and becoming more educated and self-aware to make sound financial decisions.

Perception is not really reality, looks can be deceiving, and a fund can actually look more secure than one thinks. The authors this year have provided me with a more detailed map of meaning making than I perceived could be possible.  I am more prepared and empowered to lead…hopefully that is not just looks.

[1] Rosling, Hans, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, and Ola Rosling. 2020. Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Reprint edition. Flatiron Books. Page 2.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, Page 13.

[4] Ibid, Page 14.

[5] Ibid. Pages 124-127.

[6] Ibid. Page 127.

About the Author


Nicole Richardson

PC(USA) pastor serving a church in Kansas City. In my spare time I teach yoga and scuba diving

4 responses to “Looks Can Deceive”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Nicole: I thought this book was a great way to end the semester, too. Great optimism and reasons for hope. I had seen Rosling’s Ted Talks before and loved his message (and his energy). He has a knack for putting his finger on data and bringing the truth out of it. Great post; have a terrific summer.

  2. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hi Nicole…thank you for your thoughtful engagement with Rosling’s book! I loved reading your summary of learnings and your pairing of Rosling with Friedman as you enter your new call! I’m curious to hear what text is guiding your first Sunday as you step into the life-stream of this congregation! And, what first questions you are considering to offer during your first session meeting?

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Nicole: Do you have an initial ideas on how to steward this endowment fund? Any ties to your NPO?

  4. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Nicole, all the best to you as you begin a new call! I really enjoyed reading your insights about the best use of resources to help the most people possible. How do you think that principle can be applied within the local church? For example, how can pastors help couples succeed more before there’s a crisis? I’ve thought a lot lately about being proactive rather than reactive to issues that should not be a surprise.

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