Cleveland, Ohio resident Ariel Castro thought of himself as “a good person,” as did some of his neighbors, prior to his arrest, conviction and suicide in 2013. This, in spite of the fact that he kidnapped three young women over a three year period, chained and imprisoned them in a basement, raped them repeatedly, fathered several children by them, buried the babies who died, and kept the surviving child imprisoned with its mother. Only after a fortuitous escape by the prisoners were Castro’s secrets revealed. He was subsequently arrested and eventually pled guilty to 937 of 977 criminal charges that included kidnapping, rape, and aggravated murder.
During the trial which ended in a sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole plus 1,000 years, his address to the court included claims that he was “not a monster” and that most of the sex he had with the women was consensual and they had “a lot of harmony going on in that home.” However, one of the victims saw things a bit differently, as evidenced by her statement to him in court, “You took 11 years of my life away. I spent 11 years in hell…”
Obviously, there was wide discrepancy between Castro’s view of himself, and the reality in which those who knew him most intimately experienced him.
Josef Fritzl of Amstetten, Austria expressed a similar view of himself after his arrest in 2008 for imprisoning his then 42-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, for 24 years in the family basement. Following years of abuse that began when she was 11, Fritzl lured his 18-year-old daughter into a remote corridor in their basement, concealed her in a secret chamber sealed with a series of steel doors and electronic locks, and explained to his wife and their six other children that that Elizabeth had run away to join a cult. He physically assaulted, sexually abused, and raped her for years, resulting in one miscarriage and the birth of seven children, three of whom mysteriously showed up as infants on the family doorstep upstairs and were raised by Fritzl and his wife, Rosemarie, as their own children.
Years prior to imprisoning Elizabeth, Fritzl apparently locked his own mother in a remote attic room, bricked up her window, told everyone she had died in 1959. Evidence indicates that she may have been imprisoned for the next 21 years before her actual death in 1980. He imprisoned his daughter in the basement approximately 4 years later.
At the age of 73 he was charged with rape, incest, kidnapping, false imprisonment and slavery, and sentenced in 2009 to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 15 years. Including evidence that he provided his captives with a Christmas tree during the holiday, his lawyer insisted to the jury that Fritzl was “not a monster,” and Fritzl himself claimed, “I am not the beast the media make me to be.”
Certainly these are extreme cases. But, degrees of discrepancy between how we think of ourselves and how others experience us are common.
It is fairly normal for children with candy or cookies in their mouth and stickiness or crumbs on their lips – when confronted – to deny knowing anything about missing candy or cookies.
Most speeders do not think of themselves as lawbreakers.
Some significantly obese people believe they have healthy dietary and exercise habits.
While eating a stacked plate piled high with fried onion rings one time, my wife confessed to our fellow diners that we had been trying to lose weight, but just couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t happening. When they laughed, pointed to the obvious and said, “Perhaps these might be a clue!” we, of course, denied eating such delightfully rich fare regularly.
Intoxicated people regularly insist they have not had too much drink, and regularly intoxicated people rarely admit to being drunks.
Cheating spouses typically deny having an affair, and simultaneously think of themselves as a good spouse or parent, especially if they do something nice for someone they have publicly covenanted to love.
In various health studies over the years related to handwashing, study participants often report that they wash their hands with soap as much as 90% of the time.
But, in actual observed behavior of those same participants, as few as 30% actually wash their hands with soap and water, and in one study, less than 10% actually behaved in accord with their claims.
Why is that? Why would 9 out of 10 people claim they do something, but only 1 to 3 out of 10 actually do it? Are that many of us confused, inconsistent, and deceitful?
Identifying the Problem
A little confusion and inconsistency is normal. But, regular and repeated discrepancies between claims and behavior signifies a problem.
Some people are outright liars. We may know who we are and what we do or don’t do, but we engage in complex attempts to deceive others.
It is not that complicated. We know the truth, we tell others things that are not true, not completely true, or knowingly designed to distract or imply something else or hide something we do not want known.
This is how people like Castro and Fitzl and so many others can get away with their behavior for long periods of time. They act mostly “normal”. They laugh, sing, and dance. They take responsibility, express care and concern for others, and sometimes, for the very persons they are abusing. They come up with plausible excuses for strange noises and errant behaviors.
When finally exposed, those they have duped completely will say, “I had no idea. Never saw that coming.”
Those partially duped might say, “Wow! That is extreme, but this new information does help explain some things.”
Fritzl’s past included a conviction and short time served in prison for rape, as well as a number of other unsolved crimes and strange actions across the course of his lifetime and in his proximity that made much more sense once his case came to light.
Scoundrels have an advantage when few people know much of anything, and no one knows enough to put various pieces together, or those that do are silenced or intimated.
On the other hand, we often attempt to deceive ourselves, and many of us succeed.
Perhaps our self-protective nature kicks in when someone says something in a way that makes us look bad, but we don’t want to look bad or don’t think of ourselves as bad.
When Michael Dunn of Jacksonville, Florida asked a group of teenagers sitting in a car at a gas station in 2012 to turn their music down, and they refused, he fired nine bullets into the vehicle, resulting in the death of one of the occupants.
While awaiting trial for three counts of attempted murder and one count of firing into an occupied car, Dunn insisted that he was “not a monster”, as some people were claiming. He did not like the label, and preferred a different interpretation of his actions.
Whatever the label, the jury did not view his behavior favorably and sentenced him to years in prison.
Most of us have words in our minds that we don’t associate, or don’t want to associate, with ourselves, and we will vehemently oppose any attempts to stick those labels on us.
Hence, the first step in any recovery process is admitting we have a problem.
One key to self-assessment, if you are so inclined, is to determine the consistency between who you think you are, and who you really are.
Degrees of discrepancy are determined by the difference between what you say you are and who you present yourself to be – and what you really do, say, and think.
- You say you took out the trash, but why is the trash can still full and the kitchen stinky?
- You say you always clean out the dryer lint trap after every load, but you have been drying clothes all day and there are five distinctly colored layers in the trap right now.
- You say you always flush the toilet when you are finished, but, well, you know.
- You say you’re a good handyman, but laying around while so many things need to be done is not very handy, man.
- You say you love me and want to spend time with me, but when given a choice, you rarely choose me.
- You say you are a positive person, but you regularly complain and fault-find.
- You told us you had a strong work ethic, were self-motivated, responsible, and believed anything worth doing was worth doing well, but you appear to be lazy, rarely take responsibility, often place blame, and what little you do produce is shoddy and usually late.
Clearly, in these examples, there appear to be differences between what is claimed and what is experienced.
Also, degrees of discrepancy can be revealed by differences between who other people think we are, as far as they know, and who we really are in all of our entirety, if others knew about us all there is to be known.
A person with high integrity and small, if any, degrees of discrepancy in their life will not surprise anyone who knows them with anything that suddenly becomes known about them.
About such a person, acquaintances, family members, and friends will affirm, “Yes, this new information fits the person I know and have always believed them to be.”
However, the more degrees of discrepancy we have in our life, the more people who supposedly know us will be surprised when they find out our most closely held secrets. Some will even say, “That does not fit with what I know of them at all.”
An even more serious issue is if we ourselves are surprised and find ourselves saying, “That is not me. That does not fit my character at all. I would never do that, or say that.”
If this happens to you, and in fact you have done or said whatever you deny, you may not really know yourself very well. Perhaps you are deceiving yourself, or trying to excuse yourself with the classic claims, “I don’t remember, and that doesn’t even sound like me.”
Furthermore, if you continue to insist that others are wrong, are lying, are misinterpreting, are being mean to you or involved in a vast conspiracy, etc., you are seriously either in denial or firmly committed to living a deceitful life that lacks integrity.
Some people are proud of their untoward behavior. Their endeavors often take cunning, diligence, guts, persistence, strategizing, and/or hard work.
They gain a sense of power in successfully deceiving, using and abusing others, and any attempt to downgrade their accomplishment(s) is offensive to them. They believe themselves uniquely admirable and noteworthy, even humble, since they are not usually bragging out loud.
For competitive people, living deceitfully can be a game they force others to play, even if others don’t know they are being played. The scoundrel earns private points for themselves every time they get away with something, and that feeling can become powerfully addictive.
For those who do want to live lives of integrity, self-assessment can be difficult.
Most of us are unwilling or unable to accurately self-assess without bias, hence the need for counsel to help us work through our self-protective barriers and self-deceptions in order to see ourselves more clearly and fully as God and others see us, and work on closing degrees of discrepancy.
If you are willing, the next time you wash your hands with soap and water and look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “Who are you, really?”
If you are really willing, ask others, “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?”
Where there are differences, take responsibility for yourself. Your actions, your words, even your thoughts. You are responsible for your own degrees of discrepancy.
Hopefully, when all is fully known about you that there is to be known, your own beliefs and words about yourself – compared to who you really are and who others know you to be – will reveal no discrepancies.
Discrepancy vs Depravity
In closing, it is important to note that degrees of DISCREPANCY are different from degrees of DEPRAVITY. I define discrepancy here as the difference between who you believe and say you are, and who you really are as all other people combined and God experience you.
Degrees of discrepancy take everything into account – everything known and unknown in public and private – and compare that to how you think of and present yourself.
The spectrum of good and evil in discrepancy is not the issue. The issue is the difference between what you believe and say, and who you really are.
If you are truly all good, and everyone and God knows you as all good, you would have zero degrees of discrepancy.
Likewise, if you are truly all evil, and everyone and God knows you as all evil, you would similarly have zero degrees of discrepancy.
On the other hand, degrees of depravity would be defined by the difference between God’s standards and our personal thoughts, words, and actions. The all good person would have zero degrees of depravity, whereas the all evil person would manifest the maximum degrees of depravity possible.
If you are a person who wants God’s best for yourself, understanding your own degree of discrepancy is significant to comprehending your own degree of depravity, which can better enable you to make choices that provide opportunities for forgiveness, growth, healing, improvement, healthy relationships, and even salvation.
K. Lynn Lewis serves as President of The Bible Seminary in Katy, Texas and is the founder and President of InspireUSA: Celebrating the Best of America®. A seasoned entrepreneur with a diverse professional background in business, education, and ministry, he is the author of Boss Like God: A Blueprint for Elite Workplace Performance (2018), Meat and Potatoes for the Soul (2013,2015), Plight (2015), and Christian Communication in the Twenty-first Century (2002), and producer of What a Dig and Shiloh Network News video series.