Monday, January 21, 2013

Why We Confess

I'm a terrible liar.  My lips quiver.  My eyes twitch like I'm watching a tennis match and I cannot hold eye contact of the person I'm lying to.  Not to mention the incredible guilt I feel leading up to and forever following the lie.  It's been this way since I was a child.

Don't believe me?  Ask my wife who will verify that any minor joke I try to pull over on her fails due to my tells.  Anyone want to play poker with me?

Lance Armstrong provided some news that we all already knew or suspected.  I did not watch the interview.  Lance's vehement denials and aggressive defense of his "integrity" when someone had the audacity to speak the truth were enough for this interview to barely register in the must watch category.

But it did get me thinking about why people confess.  It happens every day, in every police station, in jail cells, in bedrooms, and in bars.  People routinely unburden their darkest moments to loved ones and even absolute strangers.  Maybe it's my inability to lie that gives people the notion they can trust me.  It seems that any party I go to and meet someone new, I have their life story complete with faults within minutes.

Why do people confess?  Why tell anyone?  Why not keep the secret that most haunts you in the depths of the night to yourself?  Telling on yourself will only lead to trouble.  An arrest, a divorce, lose a friendship, or destroy a family.  Despite the negative consequences, confessions are as real and likely as the fact the sun will rise tomorrow.

One of the largest reasons people confess is guilt.  Guilt is caused by mental stress.  Does the cheating husband worry that his dalliance will be discovered every waking minute?  What about the man who murdered his neighbor?  Or the drunk driver who hits a pedestrian and takes off?  The fear of being discovered and stress that causes creates guilt.  It manifests itself physically and mentally for as long as the stress lasts, causing agitation and physical problems.  There are common clues in everyone that detectives can use to obtain a confession.  Many times the only way to relieve the stress and guilt is to unburden yourself to another person, even for just a moment.  The relief of confessing, of letting someone else share the weight of guilt, can cloud the vision of probable consequences.

What are some of the other reasons?  Some people feel an urge to explain themselves and their behavior.  Others think that confessing will absolve them of all liability (she won't divorce me, or they won't arrest me when they see how small my role was).  The braggart exists too.  Someone trying to impress his friends or look tough in the jail will also tell of his prior exploits and usually those friends are only too happy to retell those exploits to a jury if it will help them out.

Confessions in the criminal world need to be corroborated.  Anyone can confess to anything.  It is necessary to obtain details during the confession that only the actual culprit would know.  Good detectives will use the physical and mental cues and motivations for confessing to get a confession.  In my experience, most confessions come from relaxed environments where the detective is treating the suspect respectfully.  It is more like a parishioner speaking to a priest then.

Lance provides a different reason.  His motivation to confess is purely selfish.  There is a documented history of forgiveness with our athletes and celebrities.  We all love a redemption story.  The first part of the redemption process is admitting wrong-doing.  Once we see our beloved figures are human and capable of mistakes, we find ways to forgive them.  The evidence was too strong against Lance for him to continue to deny it any longer.  My guess is that a publicist or someone close to him finally got through to him and explained that the only way to build himself back up is to be honest and humbled.  He tried and confessed to the confession queen, Oprah.

I'm apathetic about the entire situation.  I loved the story when he was winning the races, and I never believed his accusers until recently.  On the other hand, he has done so much for cancer research, something that affects me deeply, that I am extremely appreciative for his foundation and the half a billion dollars it raised.  It's the old moral question - does the end justify the means?

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