Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Cognitive Dissonance

Now and again, you hear about some rich actor or jock or musician whose financial manager has ripped them off. Bled away a big chunk of assets, spent the loot, and too bad.

How could that happen? people wonder. 

Well, two things come to mind: 

1) You hire a financial manager because you don’t have the time or wherewithal to do it yourself.

The skills and talent that made you wealthy don’t necessarily make you money-savvy. Consider a 22-year-old rock guitarist who grew up poor, dropped out of school at sixteen, suddenly finds himself at the top of the charts sitting on a couple million bucks of royalties. Smart enough to know what he doesn’t know, so he hires somebody who does.

Not experienced enough to know how to watch the guy who manages his money. 

The corollary is 2) You trust the wrong people. You have a friend who has somebody he likes and trusts, you trust your buddy, so that is who you pick.

Maybe the financial guy has never stepped crooked before, been doing it twenty years, but the temptation gets too strong. Rich, dumb rock star on a generous allowance? He won’t notice the odd hundred grand here or there. And the longer he gets away with it, the easier it becomes.

Doesn’t have to be a kid who gets fleeced. Leonard Cohen was living in a Buddhist monastery and got cleaned out, had to go back on the road in his seventies.

Now, I told you that so I could tell you this:

Trust is a tricky thing. We want to believe that people we like are trustworthy, and we don’t look too closely because we really want that.

We want to be loved. We want friends, real and good. We spend our lives looking for family, for our tribe, and for some of us, those number but a few.

The truth, it is said, waits for eyes unclouded by longing.

Maybe your friend was, once upon a time, somebody who’d help you bury a body, but changed, and you missed it. Or maybe it was never there at all.

Why did this come into my head today? I was scrolling through the old blog, pursuant to to reactivating it, and came across posts about an old friend and writing collaborator who turned out to be not what I thought.

It was for me, a big deal, and now and then, I will revisit it. Not to pick at the scar, which is years old, but to examine how I thought and what I did, to see if they still seem valid. If my experiences since might shed a better light on it, I want to see. That does happen — something you learn gives you a new tool or method you can apply.

Hasn’t happened yet in regard to this, but I still check.

Save for one example, I will skip chapter and verse here — those who know me have heard the story, those who don’t probably won’t connect to the particulars. Came-to-realize-something, and with the difference in perspective, saw stuff that was there, but I had not wanted to see.

Some of it was downright ugly. The example:

My collaborator seldom, if ever, met a book deadline he liked. He was late, sometimes a few weeks, sometimes months, in one case, over a year.

Which, of course, reflects upon both of you in a collaboration. “He” becomes “we.”

I rarely missed a deadline, so I would hustle to get our stuff in on time. Between hassling him and doing way more than my share, I managed mostly to pull this off.

Never mentioned this to our editors. United front, one-for-all-all-for-one. Protecting my friend.

Came a time when I pitched a novel to our publisher on my own. Got back a nervous response: Well, is (your collaborator) going to be there?

No, just me.

Dead air.

Tumbleweeds ...

So, I waited a bit, then went back. What is the problem here? 

Some hemming and hawing, then it came out:

Seemed my collaborator had allowed in conversations with editors how much more work he had to do to keep me in line, that I was dragging my feet, not getting my part done, and how he’d had to step up more than once and, heroically, save me …

Motherfucker! Say what? Seriously?

Well, um .. yes.

I could not believe it. 

I felt kind of like the Star Wars fan who wrote a letter to me, castigating me for a scene I’d written. Said she: “Princess Leia would never do that to Han!”

There is a school of thought says that you don’t really see people you have known for a long time; that you overlay what is there with an idealized image you have of them, based on history, of how they were, or, more realistically, how you believed they were.

Sometimes creates quite a cognitive dissonance, the reality versus the fantasy-portrait you painted. Oh, my. 

The truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing …

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