Are You Smarter Than the Average Bear?

Let me give you a dose of eighth-grade math PTSD. Who remembers mean, median, and mode, our initial foray into the (horrible, terrible, no good, very bad) world of statistics? If I were to rank all the college classes I’ve taken, Stats would be at the low end of the bottom tier. But, regardless of the scars it might have left on us all, most of us are familiar with finding the mean. (Averaging, in mere mortal speak.) Average is considered the middle of the road, the fifty percent mark. Anything greater than .50 is above average. Everything that falls beneath is below average. Simple enough concept.

Yet, according to a psychology study, sixty-five percent of Americans believe they are above average. [1]

Y’all, the math doesn’t work.

In these days of crippling self-confidence issues, maybe it’s good that we think we’re better than we actually are. Nothing wrong with a positive self-image, right? High self-confidence can give us the boost to try something scary, like hang-gliding, opening a new business, or raising bees.

I wonder why we’re predisposed to think of ourselves so highly. The study didn’t pinpoint the reason why we tend to overestimate ourselves, only that we do.

What I found disturbing was we give ourselves an above-average rating most often when judging ourselves morally. [2]

In other words, I am more likely to believe I am morally superior to those around me than, say, that I am more clever or wise.

Hmm. That caused me to do some serious self-reflection. How would I rank myself, compared to others, in aspects like intelligence, honesty, faithfulness, cleverness, competency, friendliness?

I recently read the novel, Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. (Spoiler alert. I will discuss the ending of the novel.) In the story, the unnamed narrator is a young woman in her twenties who marries a wealthy Englishman in his forties after a whirlwind courtship. (Let’s call her Claire.) Claire grew up poor and was working as a lady’s companion when she met Maxim. She struggles with self-worth throughout the novel, especially when they arrive at Manderly and she learns about the beautiful, composed, socially graceful Rebecca, who died the year prior.

Claire convinces herself Maxim doesn’t truly love her because she believes he has never gotten over losing Rebecca. However, when a boat crashes near their home, the rescue operation discovers the sunken remains of Rebecca’s sailboat, with her decomposing body inside. Since Maxim identified “her” body two months after the accident, he becomes a suspect in Rebecca’s death.

He confesses to Claire that he actually hated Rebecca, who was cold, manipulative, and unfaithful. She goaded Maxim into shooting her, telling him she was pregnant with another man’s child. Maxim killed her, then took her out on the sailboat and scuttled it with her body inside.

When Claire hears Maxim’s confession, she does all she can to clear his name. She travels to London to see the doctor Rebecca visited the day she died and learns Rebecca was not actually pregnant. She had cancer. The doctor told her she had only months to live and would die in agony.

This information is shared with the prosecuting attorney, and when asked, Claire lies for Maxim. Though she knows he shot his wife, she tells them Rebecca was distraught with the news of the diagnosis and killed herself.

Now. Back to the morally superior question. On average, we tend to rank ourselves as “above average” on moral issues. However, if you found yourself in a similar situation, where you could reasonably excuse the bad actions of someone you loved, especially if the truth would ruin not only their life but also yours, would you lie to protect them? If your lie kept your child from going to prison? Your mother from the death penalty?

What would I do? Would I truly be a member of the “above average,” or would I be part of the 15% who thinks I am better, but who is fooling themselves? I hope and pray, should I ever be in this position, I would turn to God and trust in his providence. Regardless of how bad things looked, or how devastating my truth would be, I must hope I could do what the Bible teaches us.

Thou shalt not lie.

I hope I could stick myself close to God, like a grass burr attaches to my sock, and trust his guidance would carry me through whatever heartache might come.

What about you? If you were Claire, would you have handled things differently? If you have a story like Claire’s where God brought you through the fire, share it with us so we can draw strength for our own trials.

[1] https://tinyurl.com/SmarterSurvey

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641986/

53 Replies to “Are You Smarter Than the Average Bear?”

  1. I want to boldly proclaim I would NEVER lie, no matter the situation, but can I really know what I might do to protect someone I love? That said, my heart is to love God above all, so honoring Him is at the forefront of every decision, which encourages me to be bold enough to say I wouldn’t lie. Then my flesh says again, “Are you sure?” LOL

  2. Wow. Excellent comments. Sounds like an intriguing book. Yes. I think the truth is always the best course of action.

  3. Those stats are rather disturbing, but I’m not surprised really. That’s the only way for people to feel good about themselves and today it’s all about that! ‍♀️ God’s way is always best, but definitely not the easiest!

  4. I find these questions fascinating. So many aspects to think about. What is actually best for all people? As to the story you illustrated, was he justified in his actions?
    I feel like murder is a big issue and so not sure I would lie for someone, because are their intentions really what they say? What if they decide they don’t like me and want to kill me? At the same time it’s like all the thought puzzles people come up with. By lying, she’s not really hurting anyone. The other person is dead, was suffering, and so was the guy until she was out of his life… so, no harm, no foul, right? 😉

    So glad that God is the judge, understands each side of the situations. Sure, I think I am more moral than others, but I also realize others are more than me. For example, I have a friend that follows all the rules. no matter what. Whereas I will follow the rule if there is a good reason for it. 😛

    Lots to think about and continue to seek God asking Him to make me like Jesus!

  5. My mom had no boundaries, and little self respect when she met my dad. The result has been a bad marriage to a narcissist. As I grew up she went above and beyond to make sure that I had boundaries and self respect.
    On the topic of books, I’ve had similar problems. Agatha Christie’s novels had an original title for the UK editions, and a secondary title for the US editions. Nowadays her books are almost always published using the original titles. But I preferred to buy used copies, many of them with the secondary titles. I think I bought duplicate copies about four times, and that was with keeping track of which books I owned.

  6. Proverbs 3:5-6

    Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

    Oh how I hope I wouldn’t lie! I don’t think I would, but it’s so hard to know what we’d do in a situation in which we cannot even imagine ourselves.

  7. No. I don’t think I would lie for them. Hard to say until you’re wearing those shoes, but I don’t think I’d lie for anyone – for love or not. And I would trust God to see me through whatever consequences come…
    Yikes…

  8. I believe that the plum line is always God’s word and obedience. It’s a good question for discussion for sure.

  9. I can say in this situation I’m sure I would not lie for a man. I have some good boundaries in that area. However, I’m not claiming I’d always get it right in every other situation though I certainly try to follow what God would say to do.

    As for books on the other hand, I could have your problem, so I started trying to keep a list in my phone once I realized I couldn’t always recall which I had, so I won’t get duplicates at the second-hand bookstore because that can definitely happen easily! I’d love to know what you’ve thought was good enough to buy several times! I’m always interested in books!

    1. A Framework for Understanding Poverty, by Ruby Payne. This was a book I had to read as an educator, but it was mind-blowing and life-changing for me. Definitely recommend.
      I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai. I haven’t read this one, but apparently REALLY wanted to.
      This Is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper. This one was probably given to me. I used to do a project with my 10th-graders where I gave away books at the end of the year, and my teacher friends kept me loaded up. Haven’t read it yet.
      October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard. My mom gave me one when I already had a copy. Worth reading.
      The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford. One I bought for the book project. I remember LOVING it as a child.
      Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. Read for the first time in my 40s. LOVED this book.
      Ashes in the Wind, by Kathleen Woodiwiss. I adored KW when I started reading romance in my 20s. Some of her stuff didn’t age well (rapey scenes with the hero/heroine) but her stuff is very swoonworthy.
      A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierly. Bought because I saw it on a list of books everyone should read. Haven’t read it yet.
      The Ask and the Answer, by Patrick Ness. This is book 2 of his trilogy, and I couldn’t put these books down. Loved all three. Bought for the book project at school. Book one is called The Knife of Never Letting Go. Buy it now.
      Monsters of Men, book three of Patrick Ness.
      Gregor the Overlander, by Suzanne Collins. I kept this “in stock” for the book project. It was fun YA reading.
      Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan. Also kept “in stock” for the book project. More great YA stuff.
      The Hunger Games. Loved all three books. Kept it in stock for the book project.
      Insurgent. Another great YA read
      The Road to Cana, by Anne Rice. (The Interview With a Vampire author). Such great research done to write a Biblical fiction story. Excellent.
      A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini. Haven’t read this one, but LOVED The Kite Runner.
      Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane. Haven’t read, but kept getting it given to me for the book project.
      How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr. More YA stuff for the project, but I haven’t read it yet.
      White Fang, by Jack London. Read as a kid. Loved his stuff.

    1. I’d heard that before about how everyone thinks they’re above average. But reading the book got me thinking along the morality lines. When I did a little research, I discovered the moral issue is the one most obviously overrated.

      1. I don’t really know. Sometimes I think more so (and have ask Jesus for forgiveness!) but sometimes I think way less than so. And actually I think that that can sometimes also be a prideful thing too.

  10. That was so interesting! I do think of myself as average – equal to most but I do take the high road on morals and I’ll cuss you out if you argue with me
    I do know, for certain, that I love me some real books!
    Feliz Cinco de Mayo

  11. I hope I would do the right thing but without being placed in the situation, it is impossible to say with absolute certainty what I would do. I sincerely hope I would so fully depend on God that I would follow His will.

  12. Smart and wise are different . I’ve bought double books b4 too. Fortunately not closely together.

  13. I for one can never tell a lie and I hope to never be in any situation like Claire was in. If I was, I hope that I would do the smart thing and run as far away from the person who is trying to bring me down with them.

    1. I thought that too. But Claire had so vastly improved her station in life, I’m sure it would be difficult to give it all up. Plus owning this knowledge kind of flipped the scales for them. She now held the upper hand in their relationship, which was another heady thing for Claire.

      1. But it’s only a matter of time until he decides that he doesn’t like her holding that kind of power over him. After all, once you kill, it is simpler to kill the next time.

        I believe if I ever found myself in this kind of situation, the best thing to do is pray first, but I certainly hope I never have to make that decision.

  14. Wow, I hope I never have to face such a situation and make that type of decision. We all hope we would do the right thing, but if we were in this situation how would we act? I really don’t know but hope and pray I never have to make such a decision:

  15. I could go on at length about why Claire ignores the red flags and doesn’t run as far as she can from a man she knows is capable of murder – but I’ll try to stick to the topic at hand!
    Gray areas and rationalization are nothing new. None of us can say for sure how we would react to such an impossible-seeming dilemma. In cases like this on, we tend to fool ourselves into believing that telling these lies is actually the moral high ground; that God will surely overlook a lie intended to protect someone else. I mean, it’s not FOR ourselves that we’re lying, so that shows unselfishness, which is a positive trait, right? [insert sarcasm font, in case it wasn’t clear!] I do believe that we are more likely to make a moral misstep if we act based on our emotions, rather than genuinely seeking God’s guidance.
    By the way, I do appreciate the spoiler alert, but I didn’t want to miss out on the rest of the article, so I read it anyway. Now Rebecca is most definitely on my want-to-read list!

    1. Yes, Claire is definitely naive. I left a review for Rebecca on Amazon/Goodreads/BookBub. I didn’t actually finish the book because of one particularly annoying (and recurring) construct the author used. But I agree with you. We can’t trust our hearts. I remember once, when reading the story about Moses and the Promise Land when the question arose whether they would go on without God. I actually gasped. No! Don’t do it! I wanted to yell. Whatever you think is wrong with where you are, being there without God would be infinitely worse.

  16. “If you were Claire, would you have handled things differently? ” I can only honestly say I do not know, and pray I am never in such situations. If I am, I hope I can pray through it and do what I am led to do or say that would help the one I love and not be a lie. That I can do the “right thing.” Good thought-provoking question.

  17. Those are some really interesting thoughts. I pretty sure I would answer the question yes that I am morally superior than the average person, but I also know all fall short of the glory of God.

  18. I tend to now think at much later age that what a man does to his wife or mother..why would it differ with meso that is right away why I would not” board the train”…I think we have become a ..all about me, selfish, I deserve society…
    I think there is karma and pay back and I embrace your statement..about God and a grass burr on a sock..matter of fact ..it grabs me and is so picturesque, I savor it and it resonates deeply with me
    Appreciation
    Maureen Swope.

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