Invisible Gorillas and Humility

I just finished reading The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us, by Christopher Chablis and Daniel Simons. No, it’s not a Christian book, nor is it a book for people responsible for leading congregational worship (the target audience of my blog). But I think it’s relevant to both.

The book was named for the video above. If you haven’t watched it, you should now. The authors describe the purpose of their book in the introduction:

The Invisible Gorilla is a book about six everyday illusions that profoundly influence our lives: the illusions of attention, memory, confidence, knowledge, cause, and potential. These are distorted beliefs we hold about our minds that are not just wrong, but wrong in dangerous ways…We call them everyday illusions because they affect our behavior literally every day. Every time we talk on a cell phone while driving, believing we’re still paying enough attention to the road, we’ve been affected by one of these illusions. Every time we assume that someone who misremembers their past must be lying, we’ve succumbed to an illusion. Every time we pick a leader for a team because that person expresses the most confidence, we’ve been influenced by an illusion. Every time we start a new project convinced that we know how long it will take to complete, we are under an illusion. Indeed, virtually no realm of human behavior is untouched by everyday illusions.

In other words, the authors claim (backed up with studies as well as some familiar anecdotes) that all of us are prone to think we see more, remember more, discern more, know more, and have the potential to improve more than we really do. In biblical terms, we’re proud and don’t know how proud we actually are. What a surprise.

Chablis and Simons are simply confirming what God has already told us in his Word:

Prov. 26:12 Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Prov. 28:26 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
Prov. 18:17 The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.
Prov. 11:2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
Prov. 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
Prov. 29:20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Jer. 17:9    The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Matt. 7:3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Being overly confident of our perceptions and abilities can affect countless areas of our lives, but I’m just going to highlight three here.

Discussions about music in the church. Most of us are confident that we completely and accurately understand the effect of music in the church, especially our church. Some equate contemporary music, projected lyrics, and drums with worldliness, while others connect hymns and formal liturgies with a dying church (the illusion of cause). Older saints completely trust their memory of how things used to be while younger people overestimate how much they really know. Both groups are unafraid to share their opinions. We can be quick to say a certain song is overdone, not done enough, or should never be done, without any substantive evidence for our perspective.

Evaluating my own abilities and actions. The authors note “a general tendency we all have to interpret feedback about our abilities in the most positive possible light. We tend to think that our good performances reflect our superior abilities, while our mistakes are ‘accidental,’ ‘inadvertent,’ or a result of circumstances beyond our control, and we do our best to ignore evidence that contradicts these conclusions.” (Chap. 3)  When a pastor or member of the church approaches me with a question about something I said or did in a meeting or rehearsal, I often begin by trying to justify myself. Over time, if I’m not humble, I grow more confident in my perspective and the potential for relational offense grows. Maybe I’m not as good as I think I am on guitar/piano/vocal and need to spend more time practicing and preparing rather than defending and rationalizing. Maybe I need the thoughts of others, both leaders and church members, to give me a more realistic view of how well I’m serving the church.

Relational conflicts and tensions. This is where the conclusions of The Invisible Gorilla can be most helpful. If I trusted my own opinions and perspectives less, and sought to understand others more, how would my relationships be different? How much more compassion, empathy, understanding, and concern would I show to the pastor or members of my team ? Most importantly, how might my life more consistently reflect God’s command to “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 3:3)?

I didn’t have to read The Invisible Gorilla to know that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. But it was encouraging and eye-opening to read a book that so specifically and pervasively exposed my tendency to think more highly of myself than I ought.

When you think about the world with an awareness of everyday illusions, you won’t be as sure of yourself as you used to be, but you will have new insights into how your mind works, and new ways of understanding why people act the way they do. Often, it’s not because of stupidity, arrogance, ignorance, or lack of focus [or sin!]. It’s because of the everyday illusions that affect us all. Our final hope is that you will always consider this possibility before you jump to a harsher conclusion. (From the Conclusion)

Reading The Invisible Gorilla might make us less confident in our own perceptions and opinons. But ultimately, we need God’s Spirit to work the grace of humility into hearts. And he does that as we remember that Jesus came to redeem and reconcile rebellious sinners who had no idea they needed saving. We were completely blind to the reality we most needed to see. As we pursue a gospel-rooted humility, it will not only make us wiser, but God will use us to demonstrate his grace and mercy to those around us.

Do you have any examples of finding out your perceptions, memory, and/or opinions were completely wrong? If not, maybe you should read this book. Better yet, just ask your friends.

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9 Responses to Invisible Gorillas and Humility

  1. David Lockard August 11, 2010 at 12:48 PM #

    Wow! That is really eye opening. Such a different way of looking at things. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised since it is in the Bible like you pointed out. This made me realize how far off track in my own pride I get. Thank you for this needed reminder.

  2. Nate Sharits August 11, 2010 at 4:35 PM #

    I lead worship and one of the most humbling things we’ve done as a worship team is RECORD OURSELVES LIVE… the recording doesn’t lie, it’s like a cold, unforgiving mirror… which makes it very useful for improving our abilities, arrangements, transitions, etc.

  3. Lindele August 12, 2010 at 7:45 AM #

    I haven’t read this book, but a couple of others that deal at least partially with our false perceptions are I TOLD ME SO by Gregg A. Ten Elshof (deals with self-deception) and DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS by Douglas Stone et al (in exploring how to have a difficult conversation, they point out how our perceptions of what happened, what other people’s motives are, etc. are simply wrong). Both are extremely helpful and eye-opening.

  4. Sloan August 12, 2010 at 8:21 AM #

    This reminds me of ‘The fundamental attribution error’ described in psychology. We easily beleve our actions are due to circumstances whereas others actions are due to their personality

  5. Mung August 13, 2010 at 9:52 AM #

    So are you saying that GOD is like a invisible gorilla? That sounds offenseive to me. I see GOD all the time so he is not invisible and also he is greater then a gorilla.

  6. Lindsey August 13, 2010 at 11:21 AM #

    I heard about this book on the radio, and I totally agree with the authors – especially about attention. Yesterday I was driving and my 5 year old was trying to ask me a question. I actually had a 3 minute conversation with him without hearing a word he said!!

  7. chris August 17, 2010 at 10:11 AM #

    When you mentioned “Evaluating my own abilities and actions” it brought to mind a topic in which i blogged recently after reading Seth Godin’s book, The Dip.

    I can evaluate my abilities all I want but if I’m not continuing my education in that part of my life, then my evaluation is almost pointless.

    In “The Dip,” Seth talks about how people often quit doing something once the results stop being as dramatic even though the effort is the same. The benefit of recognizing this dip is that if I stay persist in, say a certain area of worship leader/musical/technical study, then I will eventually see a dramatic increase in the results of my work.

    In short, if a person can survive the dip, they might become an expert in their field of study. Think of a sound tech who knows the in’s and out’s of proper drum mic placement and mixing. Think of a worship leader who has the ability to maintain a specific mood during a worship set with their speaking between songs…time and time again.

    I think too many of us thing of evaluation as “it worked before so I’ll do it again.” But that’s not real evaluation. Real evaluation is when I say “it worked then but could it have been better? Will it work that well time and time again?”

    Enjoying your blog!

  8. Tiffany August 18, 2010 at 4:06 PM #

    Wow, this was a great entry. I want to pick up the book now! I just finished a book called “Shaped by God” (Faith Alive). In it, the contributors discuss faith formation in various parts of the church; worship being a major one, of course. I’d be curious to see your thoughts on that one.

    Thanks for this review!

  9. Ben Arthungal August 22, 2010 at 10:08 PM #

    Bob,
    Great reflections, thank you!
    Really enjoyed the songs/music at CLC this morning.
    -Ben

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