A stable-boy, knowing that the master of the house liked everything to look clean and orderly, made sure that the carriage-horse, a beautiful dappled mare, always looked her best. He brushed her coat until it gleamed, combed and braided her mane and tail with colorful ribbons, and even oiled her hooves until they shone.

However, when it came to her diet and bedding, he fed her mostly on old hay, with only a smattering of oats, and would not clean out her stall properly, but piled fresh straw on top of the soiled, so that she would often have to stand in her own refuse. Similarly, although he polished the silver fittings of her carriage-harness until they gleamed in the sunlight, he ignored the parts he knew would not be seen, so a rusty buckle scraped her belly and brittle, stiff leather chafed her inner legs. When the master was around, the stable-boy became a flurry of activity, bustling from task to task, and paying the mare much attention, patting her nose and feeding her sugar, but when they were left alone, the boy loafed and napped, ignoring her completely.

Inevitably, the poor beast fell ill, and the veterinarian, seeing the true condition of the mare right away, told the master of the house just how matters stood, and why. The lad was summarily dismissed; passing through the stable door for the last time, he cursed his bad fortune for losing his place.

The mare admonished him: “It was not your bad fortune, but your own bad actions, that are responsible for your departure. For surely, had you cared for me properly, rather than just being seen to be caring for me, you would still have your place – and I would still have my health.”

One of the hallmarks of an abusive relationship or group is the “double life” led while in the grip of undue influence. From a battered spouse fabricating a story to explain the bruises, to a high-pressure organization covering up the sexual abuse of children (and doing nothing to change the policies that ensure continued, unchecked, abuse) – the picture presented to the outside world must be rosy. Predators are skilled at putting forward a charming veneer and will gaslight their victims into following suit. Appearances are everything: the neighbors mustn’t suspect that there has been an argument, and reporting abuse to the proper authorities becomes an act of betrayal to the group – and by extension, all the group stands for.

When groups or individuals spend more time and energy maintaining their good reputations than they do working to deserve a good reputation, then they have crossed over the line into dishonesty and manipulation. It is important for those practicing healthy skepticism to look beneath the “window dressing” of any situation – and critically assess the actual, rather than the promised, results.

Editor's Note: While we at OMF value all free expression of opinion, the views expressed by our contributing authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of OMF, its board members, or trustees.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Spike’s dystopian novel? Do you have a story about deceptive appearances that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!