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Navigating Survivorship Bias #BLESSED

  • 3 mins

When attending church, I often heard people express their conviction in Christ, citing the feeling of God's presence during challenging moments in their lives. One particular story involved a family member recovering from a critical illness, and they credited God's presence for the successful recovery, overlooking those who didn't make it through.


This narrative isn't unique to Christianity; it resonates across various religions, spiritualities, and belief systems. Its recurrence makes it challenging to disprove, given the subjective nature of feelings. Before delving deeper, let's examine what survivorship bias entails.



What is Survivorship Bias?

Survivorship bias is a cognitive bias that occurs when we focus on the individuals or things that have "survived" a particular process while overlooking those that did not. This bias can lead to inaccurate conclusions because the data used for analysis is only based on the successful outcomes, ignoring the failures or entities that did not make it through.


The term is often used in various contexts, such as business, investing, or historical analysis. For example, in the business world, survivorship bias may occur when studying successful companies to identify common traits for success, without considering the many failed companies that possessed similar characteristics. This can lead to a skewed perspective and flawed decision-making.



Context of Social work

In my role assisting clients facing evictions, we can provide aid to only about a sixth of all applicants due to funding restrictions. Understandably, many clients turn to prayer during these challenging times, and those who receive aid often express deep gratitude to God. However, by exclusively focusing on their positive outcomes, they may inadvertently overlook the significant number of applicants denied aid.


Some may question why I scrutinize clients during their moments of success. The reason lies in the importance of adopting a broader perspective, considering both successes and failures. There are compelling reasons for taking a macro view on these issues:

  1. Guilt: Clients denied aid after initially receiving it might wrongly attribute the failure to themselves rather than the system. This can result in feelings of shame and guilt. A wider perspective helps them recognize that the primary issue lies in funding constraints.
  2. Social change: Concentrating solely on successes can create a false sense of security. This may lead to inaction and contribute to perpetuating a broken system. By acknowledging failures along with successes, there's a greater potential for driving meaningful social change.
  3. Resource Allocation: Focusing only on successful outcomes may lead to inefficient resource allocation. By examining both successful and unsuccessful cases, organizations can better understand the factors contributing to success or failure, enabling more targeted and effective allocation of resources.
  4. Learning and Improvement: Acknowledging failures allows for a more comprehensive analysis of the aid program. Learning from both successful and unsuccessful cases helps identify areas for improvement, refine strategies, and enhance the overall effectiveness of the assistance provided to clients.
  5. Client Empowerment: A broader perspective empowers clients by acknowledging the challenges and systemic issues they face. Recognizing both successes and failures fosters transparency and encourages open dialogue about the limitations and potential improvements in the system.



Does God Actually Deserve Credit?

The conversation about survivorship bias in the context of religion leads to a fundamental question: Does God truly deserve credit for success? While no one prohibits expressing gratitude to God for every success and blessing, considering the evident failures and tragedies in society makes me hesitant to attribute praise to Him.


Oh, to the child who tragically succumbs to suicide because of relentless bullying, my sincerest apologies—it seems God was just too busy showering another kid with a shiny new iPhone for their birthday. And to the child in Khan Yunis, Gaza, losing limbs in a horrific incident, forgive me, but it appears God had more pressing matters, like doling out Christmas gifts to suburbanites. And, of course, to the disabled person whose wheelchair got damaged, my apologies once again—seems God was too occupied blessing a newlywed couple with a fancy new car.


If the response to these disparities is an insistence on being more grateful to God, then that is a deity unworthy of my praise or worship. This isn't to suggest hyperfocusing on negatives or dwelling on failures. Nor is it an attempt to ask God for a perfect world. However, expecting higher standards for a more just world is reasonable because, ultimately, He is a deity.

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