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

Through the Thinking-Glass

Written by: on October 21, 2021

Alice was bored; bored with the doldrums of regular life; bored of books with no pictures.  Out of boredom Alice is lured to follow the white rabbit down the rabbit hole.  I imagine Alice would be similarly bored with the Daniel Kahneman’s 400 plus page book (with very few pictures) Reading, Fast and Slow.  Kahneman’s vast experience in economics, statistics, and psychology inform his 2 system (Fast Intuitive Thinking and Slow Effortful thinking), 2 selves (Experiencing and Remembering) framework for understanding thinking about thinking. Yeah, a rabbit hole in the making.  But I, aka “this Alice”, wasn’t bored even without many pictures.

Reading Fast and Slow is a thorough fleshing out of psychological statistics as it informs how humans utilize impressions, intuitions, effort applied in cognition, experiences, and memory in their decisions and beliefs making.  Make no mistake, Kahneman is all about unpacking how and why we make mistakes in our thinking. Kahneman admits that his book is weighted heavily on presenting the types of biases that influence intuition (heuristics, stereotypes, anchoring effect, WYSIATHI et al.) He also makes clear that System 2, the Slow Thinking, rational part of our thinking system, has an important role in working to sift through our intuitions and impressions to lead us to new information, knowledge, beliefs.  He notes that this process of thinking takes intentional effort, and yet the inclination is to be lazy.  Kahneman’s sense of humor and engaging subject matter was the white rabbit that led “this Alice” down the rabbit hole.

I found myself going down all kinds of rabbit holes while reading this book. Thinking about rabbit holes lead me down the rabbit hole of Alice’s rabbit hole where I came across an article by Kathleen Shultz. “In the original story, Alice falls for quite a while—long enough to scout out the environment, grab some food off a passing shelf, speculate erroneously about other parts of the world, drift into a reverie about cats, and nearly fall asleep.”[1] Yes, I did a long fall through Reading, Fast and Slow.  More than any book so far I found myself making all kinds of scriptural and theological connections, for instance, how does our system 2’s behavior of escaping effort speak to the challenges of discipleship[2], system 2 being activated lead to system 1 to succumb to temptation – how does this impact our understanding of what happened during the temptations of Jesus[3], and do scriptures reflect the psychological awareness of “cognitive ease”, i.e. what happens when we give with a joyful heart?[4]. Another rabbit hole, how can some of these biases be utilized for positive impact on church engagement, and more importantly ethical?[5] I saw rabbit holes luring me to investigate more where Friedman and Kahneman connected on “low pain thresholds”[6], and the logic of Augustine’s morality coercion undergirding “The Nudge of the 2 Selves”[7], how I play Frozen FreeFall game on my phone, and just plain curiosity of why I would choose the take the road less travelled.

Last year we read Being Wrong (also) by Kathleen Schultz.  As Kahneman unpacked in section 5, humans confounding tendencies to believe that what we know is the correct truth while new information presented conflicts with our truth, I flashed to memories of reading her book.  This lead me down another rabbit hole to find my Facebook posts when I shared some of her quotes.[8] This human truth, that we struggle with saying ’I’m sorry, I was wrong” has been a simmering pot for me.  As our chronically anxious nation continues to be polarized over racism, Covid, masks, and vaccines I become more convinced of the importance that the biology, psychology, and (strangely) statistics around low thresholds of pain, and our tendencies to dig our heels in even when we are wrong, need to be a part of understanding our leadership in the places God has us.  It means effort applied, self-differentiation, courage, risk, imagination, and love.  All of this is overwhelming when I think about how to integrate it all.

Thinking, Fast and Slow has so much to unpack.  But as I said to Kayli, “I woke up freaking out over everything I have to accomplish.  Then I decided I really have to prioritize.” This book will be one I come back to again when I have time to follow the white rabbit again. It was fun to slowly fall down the rabbit hole looking all around at what I could see in his book. I believe that as I ponder the questions raised, I will say what Alice would say, curiouser and curiouser.


[1] https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-rabbit-hole-rabbit-hole

[2] Section 3 – The Lazy Controller

[3] Page 41 – The Busy and Depleted System 2

[4] Section 5 – Cognitive Ease

[5] Getting people to smile in order to be positively open to the worship experience, using the Anchoring index in fund raising, or priming to create generosity.

[6] “This is the essence of intuitive heuristics: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easer one instead, usually without noticing substitutions” Page 12; Loss Aversion pg.283

[7] Page 96, 372, 412-413.

[8] Facebook post September 8, 2020  “As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient. “

Facebook post September 9,2020   “Error-blindness…as soon as we know that we are wrong, we aren’t wrong anymore since to recognize a belief as false is to stop believing it. That we can only say “I WAS wrong.”

Facebook post September 13, 2020  ”All of us believe in getting second opinions when it comes to medical issues, but when it comes to most other matters, we are perfectly content to stick with the opinion we already have……Most of us are supremely unmotivated to educate ourselves about beliefs with which we disagree.”


About the Author


Nicole Richardson

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

14 responses to “Through the Thinking-Glass”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:

    I think a demoralizing thought is that we spend so much time as pastors thinking about our people, how to care for them, teach them, and how to lead them, but it goes unnoticed, unheeded, or unimpactful.

    I don’t about you, but it is exhausting to think about all the ways I should be thinking deeply about everything I have to do and all those I encounter as a pastor.

  2. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Nice essay Nicole (and great title, I need to start being more creative). Your Alice reference rings true, there is a lot to understand in this book and it is worth revisiting time and again. I can relate to the stress of having so much to do, then taking a beat and prioritize the list. If we can just stop and think about our thinking at times, it helps. It is a difficult thing to do though, but this book makes it easier to do just that.

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Thanks Troy. Yes I am attempting to take Jesus model of taking a beat to rest and recenter. It’s so tempting for me to lean into my “SuperWoman” tendencies.

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Nicole, interesting that at least three people have referenced Kathryn Schulz in connection with Kahneman. I really like your question about the implications of slow thinking and discipleship. Question: do you tend of score as “intuitive” or “sensory” on personality tests? I wonder how much harder it is for intuitive to slow down and consider multiple inputs before making decisions.

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Roy I haven’t taken a test lately. The last time I took Myers Briggs I was an INFP. I tend to function out of “intuition” but it definitely gets me into trouble. I have been working on being more intentional on slow thinking…but it is certainly a growing edge for me.

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Nicole, you nailed it! That was a fantastic post! It grabbed my attention right away and sucked me in… and then wham, you turned the corner with a little irony of how ‘un-boring’ the book actually was. Well done. Reading your post (and others) makes me think I need to go reread the book as it was a very dry read for me. However, you blog intrigues me even more!

  5. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Nicole – I’m beginning to anticipate the gif and corresponding story you bring each week to your blog posts. They are always so fun and something that I would have never thought of. I can see so much of the ‘curiouser and curiouser’ mentality in you already and appreciate your desire to continue to uncover, explore, and get to the root of what you are thinking about whether it be something from this program or a topic you’re facing at church.

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Kayli thank you for saying that! It is important for me to keep digging so that I can deepen my understanding. I also want to have fun along the way 🙂

  6. Elmarie Parker says:

    Nicole, I love your post…the Alice rabbit hole connection is a fantastic metaphor for experiencing Kahneman’s book!

    I’m curious what the one thing is for you out of this reading that is connecting with your full ministry and personal plate right now? Is it captured in your comment to Kayli (freaking out, stepping back to prioritize)? Or is it something else?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Elmarie the thing that I connected to my full ministry is this quote from page 35, “In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs, Laziness is built deep into our nature.” I am realizing I am constantly battling the laziness of our nature as I attempt to lead people “out of the wilderness”. The premise Kahneman presents about System 2 laziness is helpful for me to understand what at least part of the inertia is.

  7. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Nicole…Wow! Totally loved the connection with Alice and Wonderland. I never would have thought about that. But I too was tumbling down all sorts of rabbit holes and never quite fully grasping much. I think we must have been on similar tracks because we both pulled in Schlutz as well. Thanks for your post on my essay. You have no idea how right on you are.

Leave a Reply