(Times Online) Why your biggest lie is to yourself
As a poll reveals that men lie more than women, we analyse the destructive power of self delusion…
On the evening of February 11, 1963, when she was 30, the poet Sylvia Plath put biscuits and glasses of milk near her sleeping children, sealed the rooms between them and the kitchen, turned on the gas but didn’t light the oven and, lying down, put her head inside. The coroner’s verdict was suicide.
On April 20 of this year, Richard Fuld, CEO of Lehman Brothers, told the US House Committee on Financial Services that while he took responsibility for the way he, like many others in Wall Street, had misjudged the seriousness of the economic crisis, he knew nothing about the kind of transactions called Repo 105.
He said: “I have absolutely no recollection whatsoever of hearing anything about Repo 105 transactions while I was CEO of Lehman. Nor do I have any recollection of seeing documents that related to Repo 105 transactions. The first time I recall ever hearing the term ‘Repo 105’ was a year after the bankruptcy filing, in connection with questions raised by the examiner.”
Repo 105 is a way that companies can raise short-terms loans using their assets as collateral. Fuld needed such loans to finance his purchase of huge assets.
One thing connects these two apparently disparate events — the lies that Plath and Fuld told, not to others, but to themselves. It was these lies, created in childhood, that led eventually to Plath’s suicide and Fuld’s denial of responsibility for the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
When Plath was a small child she did what most of us do. Rather than blame her mother for the pain her mother inflicted on her, she blamed herself. She told herself the lie: “I am bad and am being justly punished by my good mother.” This is how all of us, men and women, construct our conscience.
However, most of us construct a conscience that’s mild in its judgments. Plath constructed a conscience that was harsh and unforgiving. When her husband, Ted Hughes, left her for another woman, her conscience berated her for being a failure as a wife, mother and poet. She did not deserve to live.
Remember when you were a child and your parents, siblings and the kids at school told you that you were stupid and useless. To comfort yourself you’d create a fantasy about how, when you grew up, you’d be rich and famous and they’d all be sorry. For some children this fantasy wasn’t enough. They turned their fantasy into a lie that they told themselves. They felt weak and powerless, but they told themselves that they were secretly very powerful. One day they’d reveal their power. They made their plans and waited. Some waited in vain, but for some events allowed them to put their plans into action. Fuld planned to be the most powerful financial tycoon.
It’s only recently that we’ve learnt about the powerful men on Wall Street and their delusions of grandeur. As the evidence mounted showing them that they weren’t as knowledgeable and powerful as they thought, some of these men abandoned their delusions and tackled realistically the problems facing them.
Fuld, however, became increasingly paranoid, withdrew to the 31st floor of the Lehman building and spoke to no one except two or three trusted colleagues.
He refused to see senior staff who wanted to warn him that the bank was in danger of collapse. Lehman’s debt was as high as $600 billion, several times the value of its assets. Eventually the men who tried to warn him deposed him, but it was too late to save the great bank from bankruptcy.