The Illusion of the Facade Effect – Do you really know your neighbors?

How well do you know your co-workers or neighbors? During the course of investigations, I would commonly conduct behavioral assessments of suspects by interviewing those that could provide some insight into the suspects psyche. I was not too surprised to hear friends and associates of the Boston Bombers described in complimentary terms. I found these positive affirmations quite frequently. Many times this is because people are in denial that a lethal killer lived or worked among us. As a result, the “Façade Effect” conceals the fact that we often do not know much about those around us. We are only familiar with the projected image in the neighborhood, family gatherings, or at work.

We have all read stories of the great community leader or coach, who was arrested for child pornography. He was described in equally reverent terms as the Boston murderers. He was a great neighbor, always willing to help, quiet, friendly, and so on. I recall a serial bank robber who lived next door to two police officers. The officers socialized with the future jailbird. Oops. We all have a public persona that we project to others around us.

background-city-facadeOnce we chip through the façade and see what happens behind closed doors, we would often be shocked. Robert Putnam wrote an interesting expose on the changing socialization of America called Bowling Alone. The socialization dynamic has shifted from an abundance of club activities to a more private existence of engaging in activities requiring more seclusion. The solitude of television, video games, and the internet has replaced the bowling leagues, church attendance and civic club organizations. We often pass our neighbors on the street or the sidewalk and offer a wave or a smile to each other. That limited contact provides limited insight into what occurs behind the façade and leads to a superficial existence.

Professor Stephen Reiss of Ohio State University developed a theory of the 16 basic desires of human existence. We all possess some of these desires. I have always stressed the importance of exploring the more positive desires to assist in developing rapport and deepening our relationships with others. Acceptance is number one on the list. A life without acceptance can be a lonely one that promotes a myriad of negative desires.

In my research of lone shooters, I have often identified a common motivation behind these senseless attacks, as an attempt to attach some significance to their meaningless lives. Most people need and crave social interaction and desire to be recognized beyond the anonymity of the neighbor across the street or the former classmate. In time, more facts will be disclosed concerning the murderous brothers, but I am not surprised at the opinions offered by those that thought they knew them.

For more tips on first impressions and developing rapport, take a look at FACE 2 FACE : Observation, Interviewing and Rapport Building Skills: an Ex-Secret Service Agent’s Guide

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2 Responses to The Illusion of the Facade Effect – Do you really know your neighbors?

  1. Andrea says:

    Hello, Mike!
    Knowing people.
    I’ve been stunned by people saying things such as, “Oh, but I KNOW him. He would never harm a fly!” If questioned, it will turn out that their basis for claiming to “know” him is that he once smiled and waved across the street.
    That is NOT “knowing”. I think it simply isn’t possible for one human to “know” another. We can delude ourselves for our own sense of security, but we can’t really know anything except what the other person presents, and that can be false. That’s the reason con men can be successful; the feeling of knowing without the reality.
    I’ve had neighbors that I never spoke to. I’ve got neighbors now that I only know by “Hello”. If law enforcement knocked on the door and asked, I’d have to say that I don’t know squat about my neighbors, and indeed, I’ve never had a neighbor, or a coworker, that I did know “well”.

    • mike says:

      Andrea, Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. I am glad you validated the thoughts in my post. Cheers, Mike

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