Deceptive appearances


The devil is most devilish when respectable.

We like to think we can spot a bad guy. We assume that if we ever come across someone dangerous we will be able to recognize and avoid them. But most acts of violence and abuse are committed by apparently ordinary people, not deranged psychotics or horned demons. We are more likely to be betrayed, hurt, attacked, injured, or murdered by someone we know (and probably trust) than a stranger.

If someone seems good, we assume they are good. We take people at their own estimation. If someone thinks they are ‘good’ we rarely question their assessment of themselves. But no matter how badly people behave, very few ever consider themselves ‘bad’. They see themselves either as blameless or justified in their actions. Even the worst criminals usually think well of themselves. From Hitler to hit men, most criminals think that what they do is necessary, justified, or even praiseworthy.

We do judge the book by the cover. We assume that what we see is what we get, so that most of us are easily fooled by appearances. The fact is, that most of us don’t even know what is in our own psyches, let alone understand the darkness that might lurk in another’s.

At a barbecue some time ago I met a charming, personable man. We chatted about gardening, renovating, his beloved golden Labrador and my two pooches, and the fund raising efforts for his children’s primary school. He introduced me to his young daughter, pointed out his wife to whom he blew a kiss and when one of the many children running and playing in the backyard fell over, he picked the boy up, consoled him, wiped his tears and sent him off with a kindly pat on the head. Everyone seemed to know and like this man and the impression he made on me was of a devoted husband and father, a kind and compassionate man.

        Three months later he was arrested for child sexual abuse. He had been molesting his eleven-year-old daughter for most of her life but his perversion was only exposed when he tried to do the same to a young niece.

Everyone was shocked, not only by his dreadful acts but by their own misjudgment of his character. How could so many people get it so wrong? Why did no one ever suspect what he was capable of? Because he gave an excellent impression of a man who loved children, women, and animals, a man who wouldn’t hurt a fly, when all the time he was the worst of heartbreakers.

        We are especially vulnerable when we trust appearances. If someone treats us well, behaves reasonably and seems nice, we assume that they are, never thinking that it might be an act. We invariably trust a ‘gentleman’. Of course, some people are exactly what they seem to be, but many are not.

People looking and hoping for romance are particularly vulnerable because we see the prospective love interest through the <stron