Wednesday, November 2, 2011

I don't want to know!

Sandra Parshall

“He wouldn’t do that to me. There must be a mistake!”

“He did what? But he seemed like such a nice guy.”

“This can’t be happening. They were always so happy!”

The clueless wife whose husband was leading a double life. The neighbors who thought they were living next to a paragon of virtue, until he slaughtered his wife and children. The relatives and close friends who thought they were seeing a perfect marriage, right up to the minute the couple announced their impending divorce.

It’s a common theme in fiction because it happens all the time in real life. Humans have an extraordinary capacity for blinding ourselves to the truth about others. Equally common is the rolling-eyes, How could they NOT know? reaction from people not directly involved. We can see that our good friend’s husband is a hound dog who chases anything remotely feminine, and we can’t understand why the wife doesn’t see the truth. In hindsight and from afar, we can all recognize the warning signs that handsome, charming Ted Bundy was very bad news indeed. We can spot all kinds of suspicious behavior when it isn’t up close and personal for us.

It’s happening right now with the Madoff family. In a new book (we knew they would turn their experience into a book, didn’t we?) Ruth Madoff and one of her sons say they had no idea Bernie was making millions by ripping off people who trusted him to invest their money. Listening to Mrs. Madoff on television, I found myself muttering, “Oh, please. How could you not know?” But of course the Madoffs are not unusual. In a similar situation, plenty of us would not spot the clues, not absorb the full meaning of what was happening. Madoff was a husband and father. His wife and sons were predisposed to turn a blind eye to anything suspicious.

Sometimes this brand of blindness is a conscious choice, because knowing might make us feel we have to do something about it.

In a poll of his students at the University of Texas, Raj Raghunathan, Ph.D., asked whether they would rather know the truth even if it made them miserable, or believe a lie that would allow them to remain happy. Happiness won, 58 to 42 percent. Sooner or later the truth may catch up with them – they might learn after a spouse’s death that he or she had a secret criminal life or a lover in every major city in the country – but while they can, the majority prefer to maintain the myth that everything is just fine.

That moment when the ugly truth comes out is the point where a novelist – especially a mystery writer – would choose to begin a story, because it’s a time of cataclysmic change. On the whole, writing or reading about it is a lot more fun than living it.

Which camp are you in?

If your spouse were cheating, would you want to know? (Okay, that’s extremely personal, and I’ll give you a pass if you prefer not to answer.)

If a dear friend committed a crime and got away with it, would you want to know? Taking it further, would you even consider turning him/her in?

If the guy next door is beating his wife and kids, but he’s not hurting anybody else, would you want to know what’s happening behind his closed doors?

Do you ever wish you could tune out the bad news that spews forth 24 hours a day from every corner of the globe and leaves you feeling helpless? Do you sometimes turn off the TV or put down the newspaper, walk away, and wipe it all from your mind?

How often do you think I just don’t want to know?


Kay said...

I'd want to know. I speak from personal experience. A long ago, bad first marriage & my ex was not a nice man it turned out. Several people who called themselves my 'friends' knew some of what was going on behind my back & did not speak up. When I began to figure out what a jerk he was, what hurt the worst was their betrayal, not the ex's. I wrote the entire lot of them off too. It took me a long time to trust anyone again & it is difficult for me to let people get too close still today.

H. L. Banks said...

There are many times I'd rather NOT know but I know now from some past behaviour I regret, that denial is walking up a dead end street. But my sympathies go out to those who still do - understandable. Regrettably, very unhealthy. Oh, the dilemma's we face. Not easy sometimes. Good post, thought provoking.

Julia Buckley said...

I am also in the camp of people who want to know. If someone were taking advantage of me, I'd want to confront that. I also pride myself on being able to detect liars (but of course there could be liars laughing at me when I say that).

As to whether or not the Madoffs would have known, I just read THE MAN IN THE ROCKEFELLER SUIT in which "Clark Rockefeller" convinced many of the New York elite and his OWN WIFE that he was a Rockefeller heir, rich in his own right, and a brilliant philosopher, rather than what he was: a German immigrant, a drifter, destitute beyond what he mooched from his rich friends and his wealthy wife, and one of the most manipulative liars ever.

Rockefeller's story makes it clear that if the liar is bold and confident, we will buy what he/she is selling.

Anonymous said...

I would definitely want to know. Those who truly don't know are wasting their time with bad people when there are only so many people in the world you have time to interact with & you will have missed out on some good ones if you fill your time with bad ones.

I believe Mrs. Madeoff knew and the nuances I've been hearing on the book finalize that suspicion for me.

In re that girlfriend of Bundy's who said she didn't know, hey, SHE FOUND A BAGFUL OF OTHER WOMEN'S BRAS? HOW FEW BRAIN CELLS HAVE TO BE MOVING NOT TO "KNOW" IN THAT CIRCUMSTANCE. (In fairness, she did at least call the police with a tip on it. This reference is per the Ann Rule book if memory serves.)

I consider them accessories when they are ignoring the facts since we have a responsibility to society to pay some minimal amount of attention so that others don't die or get harmed. In terms of philosophies of law, that is why the accessory and accomplice laws were designed with that in mind too. Some days I wish I was a D.A. because I would go after the familial accessories BIGTIME. If more did that I think we'd have less of this vicious psychopathic criminals all hiding out at grandma's.


Anonymous said...

In terms of cheating spouses, I do have sympathy for people who have them and don't know it. Since trust has been abused in such cases & the injured spouse rightfully would not have expected that type of mistreatment, someone not knowing is understandable & something I would sympathize with. I was afraid my previous post didn't include that discussion. I would want to know on all of your what if's including the spouse one. But those who are dealing with or have dealt with psychopaths should not blame themselves for not knowing but just be more alert next time it seems to me.

lil Gluckstern said...

I would want to know, and if there was a neighbor abusing his wife and children, I would report that. The truth is easier to work with than all innuendo and lack of trust. We do live in communities that depend on their members to stay involved. (And then cross my fingers that I am kept safe!) That's one issue, isn't it? I watched that interview of Ruth Madoff and I found her to be very vapid. Their lifestyle was so rich, and she was only the little wife who never asked a single question?