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

We Must Do the Hard Work of Unravelling Our Bias

Written by: on March 9, 2022

In her book, “Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias,” Pragya Agarwal, a behavioral scientist and freelance journalist, tries to show that we all have unintentional biases that effects how we perceive the world and therefore how we act and communicate. Her book was published in 2020 and contains twelve chapters in four sections. She states the purpose of her research: “In this book I am looking primarily at examples where a bias is misdirected and creates prejudice and discriminatory behavior through a negative association with a certain group of community” (p. 13). In an ever-interconnected world where different cultures and beliefs must regular interact, the book is extremely timely. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States and elsewhere, the book’s message will go a long way in giving people a deeper understanding of how biased an individual can be—even when we are careful not to be.

Chapter one introduces to us how our minds have evolved to work quickly and to protect ourselves. Turns out, we have instincts for a very good reason. Agarwal argues, “We pick out bits of information that help us make quick decisions.” (p. 31). But therein lies the difficulty. When we think quickly (instinctually), we usually simplify a thing and miss a deeper truth lying just below the surface. I found this line of thinking similar to Daniel Kahneman’s, Thinking Fast and Slow. The same bias is pointed out and the ramifications for us are elaborated by both authors. Fortunately, being aware of this mental dynamic is the first step to catching ourselves from falling prey to the negative side of this trait. Kathyrn Shulz in her book, Being Wrong (from last semester) also echoed this tendency. The key is awareness–but this cannot be done in a situation of panic or crises. The awareness leads to careful analysis and logical evaluation and that takes time. Often times the pace of this world—ministry, business, school—does not easily allow for thoughtful reflection. One must be committed to taking the time.

Chapter two was insightful because Agarwal goes in depth to explain the three theories that evolutionary psychologists have accounted for our implicit biases. This type of thorough research separated her book from the hundreds of other books out in popular culture that repeat the mantra, “We shouldn’t be biased, we really shouldn’t be prejudiced.” Her expertise in this field shows through and it reminded me of Lieberman’s, The Molecule of More. An argument is always bolstered when hard science backs it up.

Chapter five is entitled, “Bobbsey Twins” and it discusses at length that, “People want to be with people like themselves.” This human trait does not go away with you but sticks with us throughout adulthood. This strong tendency struck me as critical with far reaching ramifications. Agarwal states, “People believe what they want to believe. People accept things on the grapevine that align with their world-view (p.180). This became so clear to me with Donald Trump’s election and his supporters who ate up his rhetoric during his presidency. It leaves one feeling hopeless at times.

The book ends on a positive note with an epilogue entitled “De-biasing 101.” Even though it is only five pages, the remedies she discusses are simple yet they ring true. Creating safe spaces to work, the importance of role models, and understanding your own upbringing all go a long way in minimizing your own biases. This led me to consider my own experiences, education, and employment. We are constantly being shaped, every day. That cannot be helped. The goal is to invite Christ into our daily journey and ask him to shape us, to see the world as it really is and to treat all people with justice and respect. The best anti-bias program I have ever come across is when someone invites Jesus into their human heart and lets Him mold and shape it.

About the Author


Troy Rappold

B.A. Communication - University of Colorado M.Div. Theology - Cincinnati Christian University Currently enrolled in D. Min. program at George Fox University

10 responses to “We Must Do the Hard Work of Unravelling Our Bias”

  1. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Troy, thanks for detailing your takeaways from the reading. You make numerous good points. You reference the Trump rhetoric – I’m curious if you’ve encountered any political tensions since you’ve started your staff role at a church. Also, what might you say to someone who supports the events of 1/6/21?

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Tory: I agree that the “De-biasing 101” was incredibly helpful. As you mentioned you’ve been reflecting on your experiences, education, and employment, I’d be interested to know if there were any themes that emerged for you.

    • mm Troy Rappold says:

      I’ve learned not to judge people so quickly. We’re all going through something. I’ve also learned to be more patient with people. Those two things alone are important. The older I get, the more understanding of the human condition I become, you know?

  3. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great insights and observations, Troy.

    I would be curious to know if you see the challenges of bias as being any different from the secular world, now that you are vocationally serving in ministry? What is different? What is the same? What of your previous life did you bring with you into this new role to help with these matters of unconscious bias?

    • mm Troy Rappold says:

      The secular world is definitely less gracious and more judgmental. It’s subtle, but’s it there. I caught myself being impatient with people but have learned to slow down and be more understanding. When I was in real estate, it was always go, go, go and be smart and efficient about it. Now, it is all about people, not profits.

  4. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hey Troy…thank you for your insightful post and engagement with Agarwal’s “Sway.” I’m thinking as well of what you shared during our triad conversation regarding your new work setting. You highlight Agarwal’s epilogue and her prescription of creating safe spaces to work as one step in becoming aware of unconscious/implicit bias. I’m wondering, in your role as executive pastor, what elements do you envision being instrumental to creating such a safe place for your own and other colleagues to take next steps in this journey of awareness and transformation?

  5. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Troy thank for your a helpful synopsis of the book. I appreciate your title of the blog and it made me wonder what connections could be made to “An Everyone Culture” that would be helpful in do the hard work that invites the community to join in?

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Troy thank you for the overview of the book. I am interested to hear more about how one might practically apply, develop, shape, in assisting those we serve to uncover and be set free from their biases by means of walking with Jesus.

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