We like to think that we are all good judges of character and imagine we’re able to see through to the heart of a liar, but the truth is, we rely too much on our own personal prejudices and experiences to really understand the differences. A new movie out on Netflix, Unbelievable showcases the true story of a young woman named Marie who was brutally raped and tied up in her own home by a masked intruder. When she reported the crime, her world turned upside down because she wasn’t believed, resulting in the police charging her with a crime. Marie grew up in foster homes and had been molested before in her past, and when she reached out to one of her former foster mothers, the foster mother said she didn’t believe Marie because she didn’t sound upset. Her foster mother said she had also been raped at one point and saw that Marie’s experience didn’t match up to hers. She told the lead detective this and he agreed with her when he would see her laughing and joking after the incident as if it didn’t bother her. Because of how they perceived what a rape victim should appear like, they concluded that she made up the whole thing for attention.
Another Netflix movie concerning Amanda Knox really underscores this point as well when she recounts what happened after the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher. She is first suspected of murder because she is not acting as a normal friend of a victim should act as the police viewed her calmly talking to her boyfriend and not being emotional. What I realized from watching the documentary was that Amanda Knox is a logical thinker and as such, she does not react emotionally to events, which the police mistook for clues of being a sociopath killer. If you tell an emotional thinker that you are having a bad day, they may commiserate with you and tell you to cheer up. If you tell a logical thinker the same thing, they may give you solutions instead, which some may view as cold because they didn’t react in the same way as the emotional thinker. Logical thinkers are not looking to emotionally support you, but want to provide actual solutions because that’s how they think. Because Amanda could not perform as a ‘normal’ person emotionally, many people to this day still believe that she had a hand in the murder of her roommate because they know they wouldn’t act in such a way during a murder investigation.
In 1988, Martin Tankleff woke up to find his father profusely bleeding and near death and his mother dead in their bedroom. When he summoned the police, he told them that he thought his father’s friend committed the crime, but all the police saw was that he was oddly unemotional about the deaths, leading them to believe that he wasn’t normal. And if wasn’t normal, he could commit a crime that no normal person could, assuming he murdered his parents for their great wealth. The police tricked him into an oral confession, telling him that his father miraculously awoke and told them his son committed the crime when he actually died at the hospital. As Martin was raised to trust the police knew his father never lied, he initially agreed, but refused to sign the confession. Because of his oral confession, the jury sentenced him to 50 years and he fought for 17 years to prove his innocence to finally be freed. Later on, Martin would say that he didn’t have a reaction because he was in shock, but it was too late as the police already thought they had their culprit. They just needed a confession and never pursued his father’s friend, who most likely orchestrated the murders.
Why do we think we can read people and think that we can parse the truth from other’s actions, but not their words? We want to believe that we are all masters of understanding how humans work and we will not retract our statements if confronted with the truth. Why? Because you must be a master to know humans if you know yourself. We think that everyone else thinks like us and therein lies the fault, for many people do not think and react like us. When we use our own emotional history and personal background to judge and condemn others, especially those in precarious situations, it ends with disastrous results. Marie didn’t act like an average rape victim perhaps because of her rocky childhood and how she had been molested previously. Amanda Knox didn’t think as an emotional thinker, so she didn’t understand that she was on display at the moment and needed to convey those motions. Martin Tankleff was too stunned to react and the police took this a sign that he was emotionally cold and capable of murder. However, it is those who are sociopaths who really understand this concept of playacting and feign emotions so they can trick us, but we don’t care to discuss them because we want to feel as if we are the ones who saw through someone, so we concentrate on those we think are trying to fool us.
The truth is, we are not good at reading humans. We don’t understand how an average rape victim is supposed to react. We want to think we are clever and as such, we deny those that we think are guilty because we have already assumed they are trying to pull the wool over our eyes. And in cases where the truth comes out, such as the Central Park 5, we do not back down because to admit that we were wrong is to admit that perhaps we can’t read humans after all and as such, we don’t know who we are. Instead of trying to read others in our own image, we should try to ascertain who they are and what their reasoning is. We may find that not everyone is like us and we shouldn’t fear the ones that can’t pretend to emote, but rather, we should be wary of the ones that do know how. Except, we can’t read them.