Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Worst Feeling of All

I have often wondered why intelligent people with good lives, good families, good livelihoods, and so much to lose, do things that catapult their lives into tailspins from which they never recover and which devastate their reputations, their relationships, and their futures.

Today I read one more example of that. Dipak Das, a University of Connecticut researcher known for his work on resveratrol, the ingredient in red wine that is credited with cardiovascular benefits, has been accused of falsifying his data in over a hundred instances. [Read news story here:] Das is the tenured director of the University Health Center’s Cardiovascular Research Center, which receives millions in federal grants. Why would someone so distinguished and obviously successful do something so wrong, making up data and reporting it in his research reports?

A number of years ago, I knew a couple of women, with whom I was active on non-profit boards, who did themselves in, in similar fashion. The untruths started out small, told within a circle of friends, but the crashes were very public and dramatic.

The first woman was the mother of a teenager and an 8-year old. She owned a condominium management business that bore her name. If the rest of us contemporaneous female professionals, who shared similar dedication to our careers and high-profile volunteer leadership roles, wore designer silk dresses, had our hair and nails done at the finest salons, and made generous donations to the most chic charities in town, this condo manager always outdid and outshone us in every instance.

I knew something about the condominium management business, because I had served as the president of a high-rise condominium association and had condo associations as banking customers. It always mystified me how this businesswoman could afford to spend prodigious amounts of money, when I couldn’t spend at that level, and I had a good paying corporate job that paid more than she could possibly be netting in her condo management business.

It was revealed, a few years down the road, that her ability to outdo and outshine us was fueled by embezzled funds from the condo associations which she managed. She turned out to be a criminal, and her felonious actions earned her ten years behind bars. I always wondered how any mother could intentionally do the crime, knowing she would do the time away from her 8-year old, and that those years would be lost forever.

The second woman was a single woman, who worked for a large corporation in a techie position and carried a pager as a badge of self-importance. She was an unabashed self-promoter, who boasted about her management prowess, and none of her friends wanted to doubt her word. Once I received a written article submitted by this techie friend for the newsletter of a woman’s organization, and I was really confused with the disconnect I was experiencing at how articulate this article was, compared to other less accomplished committee reports she had written. Later, after the you-know-what hit the fan, I would realize that she had plagiarized someone else’s work.

A few years passed, and during those few intervening years, there were some other incidents that involved mutual professional friends that raised questions about our techie’s true abilities and claims of high status jobs. One day, this techie woman, who was quite popular, was appointed to an important public position as the manager of a sizable staff. Someone who had been offended by one of those other incidents took the initiative to do some investigative digging, and the dirt came out. It turned out that Ms. Techie Boaster did not have the college degree nor the management experience and positions that she claimed.

Ms. Boaster did a song and dance for the newspapers for a few days, before she finally resigned, having done irreparable damage to herself and significant damage to the reputation of the administration that appointed her. They hadn’t done their homework to vet her, relying solely on friendship to offer her the position. She split town and faded away. My friends and I pondered why this woman had such an overwhelming need to inflate herself and her importance and to do it in public. What kind of self-delusion or arrogance causes someone to believe her own lies so completely that she thinks no one will discover the truth?

I realize that there are all sorts of psychological reasons why people lie and lie publicly. I suspect that those reasons can all be bundled into one overarching reason, which is that they lie and lie egregiously to fill a hole in their lives. That hole is the soul-deep feeling that they are unlovable. The feeling of being unlovable is so invasive in a personality that it overcomes all judgment and common sense, and it also overcomes the ability to recognize when one is, in fact, loved. Feeling unlovable serves to discount everything else and is the worst feeling of all.

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