My problem is not just my lack of character; it is that I can’t even see how badly I lack it. Humans have an almost limitless capacity for self-deception. For instance, psychologists speak of a massive integrity blind spot in human nature called the self-serving bias. We make ourselves the heroes of our stories to exaggerate our role in victories and to absolve ourselves of blame for failure and error.
In one survey, 800,000 high school students were asked whether they were above or below average in social skills. If they were accurate, they should have split 50–50. Want to guess what percentage of students rated themselves as below average? Zero percent! Furthermore, 25 percent of all students rated themselves in the top 1 percent!
This self-serving bias extends to every area. The majority of people in hospitals suffering from crashes that they themselves caused rate themselves as above-average drivers! You might think that education would make us more self-aware. You’d be wrong: 88 percent of college professors rated themselves above average; 25 percent rated themselves as truly exceptional. Another survey of two hundred sociologists found that half believed they would become one of the top ten sociologists in the world. No wonder there are such conflicts around tenure and promotion.
National surveys show131 that we claim to feel nine years younger than we actually are, and we claim that we look five years younger than other people our age.
And the church is not exempt. George Barna did a survey of pastors—people who are paid to teach on texts like Paul’s command to the church at Rome: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” Ninety percent of us consider ourselves above-average preachers.
And perhaps most ironic of all: when people have the concept of the self-serving bias carefully explained to them, the majority of people rate themselves as well above average in their ability to handle the self-serving bias! —When the Game is Over by John Ortberg