Humans have a tendency to overestimate our abilities and those of people we trust. It’s been called the Lake Wobegon effect, after a mythical place where “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
It’s a punchline with a dark edge. Consider the following:
According to analysis by the Pew Research Center, women earned 84 cents for every $1 made by men in 2012. Here’s the quote that grabbed my attention:
“While there is a general perception, especially among women, that men have an unfair advantage when it comes to wages and hiring, relatively few working adults report these types of gender biases at their own workplace.”
That is, women believe that discrimination happens, but don’t perceive it happening to themselves.
Here’s another quote that gave me pause, from a This American Life episode about black and white actors hired to try to rent the same apartments, to test if there is a practice of racial discrimination in certain locations. One woman, who is black, was turned away from an apartment building by a super who seemed, to her, to be perfectly affable, but who, in fact, had discriminated against her:
“It wasn’t that she couldn’t believe someone might have discriminated against her in enlightened New York City, but she thought of herself as very good at reading people, how they were responding to her, and she had detected nothing.”
My fieldwork notes are filled with stories about people who believed that their local or primary doctor was enough of an expert to guide them through a rare disease or complicated procedure. Until they found out that the clinician had missed a major clue or did not tell them about a certain drug or failed to refer them to a specialized treatment center. Before that moment, they had detected nothing, no reason to worry.
How did they find out? By connecting with other people with the same conditions online who, having been through it before, could tell them the truth about what they faced — and what they should do next.