"Faced with the high odor of real perfidy, people unwilling to risk a break skew their perception of reality much more purposefully. One common way to do this is to recast clear moral breaches as foul-ups, stumbles or lapses in competence — because those are more tolerable, said Dr. Kim, of U.S.C. In effect, Dr. Kim said, people “reframe the ethical violation as a competence violation.”
She wasn’t cheating on him — she strayed. He didn’t hide the losses in the subprime mortgage unit for years — he miscalculated.
This active recasting of events, built on the same smaller-bore psychological tools of inattention and passive acknowledgment, is the point at which relationship repair can begin to shade into willful self-deception of the kind that takes on a life of its own. Everyone knows what this looks like: You can’t talk about the affair, and you can’t talk about not talking about it. Soon, you can’t talk about any subject that’s remotely related to it.
And the unstated social expectations out in the world often reinforce the conspiracy, no matter its source, said Eviatar Zerubavel, a sociologist at Rutgers and the author of “The Elephant in the Room: Silence and Denial in Everyday Life.”
“Tact, decorum, politeness, taboo — they all limit what can be said in social domains,” he said. “I have never seen tact and taboo discussed in the same context, but one is just a hard version of the other, and it’s not clear where people draw the line between their private concerns and these social limits.”
In short, social mores often work to shrink the space in which a conspiracy of silence can be broken: not at work, not out here in public, not around the dinner table, not here. It takes an outside crisis to break the denial, and no one needs a psychological study to know how that ends."
From The New York Times.
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