They are the reverse sides of the same coin.
Ruthless, remorseless, relentless emotional manipulation. Armstrong was the perp, Te’o a victim.
The sad truth is this: Liars at the level of Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o's “girlfriend” — a catfisher extraordinaire — have as much resemblance to the rest of us as ice to fire. (To those of you not in the U.S., the Te’o saga is the big news story right now, a star Notre Dame college football player who had a two-year relationship by phone and email with a woman who said she had cancer and died.)
She never existed.
To the normal person, i.e. not a sociopath, who by definition is incapable of empathy (hmmm, how might have it felt to the journalists Armstrong sued, knowing they were right? Hey, who cares?), a lie is usually fairly minor:
That dress looks great! I love my new job! The kids? They’re terrific!
Sociopaths are a whole other breed. They see the rest of the world as prey, they the predators. Trying to get them to explain their behavior in rational terms — as Oprah Winfrey did in her interview — is like trying to get your dog to sing opera. No matter how much you wish it could happen, it won’t.
They just can’t do it. They don’t operate from the same essential principles as the rest of us.
High-level liars count on our goodwill, our good nature, our trust, our wish to believe that what people tell us is actually true.
I know this because in 1998 I became the victim of a con man, a convicted felon who left Chicago, where his exploits made front page news (working in tandem with his mother) and moved to New York in search of fresh and unsuspecting victims. I became one when, in December 1997, I answered a personal ad in a local paper.
You can’t make this bit up: “Honesty and integrity paramount” he wrote. He pretended to be a successful lawyer — in Chicago, he was a “doctor” with a “business card”, one so amateur the most junior health reporter would have known was fake.
We see what we want to see. We hear what we want to hear. If we can’t move through the world with some balance of open-heartedness to cynicism, we’re toast.
I don’t want to rehash all the details here of what happened to me. I figured he was a liar very early on, but — lonely, broke, isolated, my self-confidence at an all-time low — I was roadkill. Easy pickings! I stayed because his behavior appeared, initially, kind and attentive: he brought me a pot of home-made soup to my door, for heaven’s sake. He was funny, smart, well-dressed, physically attractive.
It got much darker and then he opened my mail and stole a credit card and used my phone to activate it and forged my signature — there’s four felonies right there. The cops laughed and the DA did nothing.
But he fooled a lot of people, including my friend with the Columbia Phd in psychology and her multiply-published author boyfriend. I kept waiting for someone else to second my fears.
Only my mother, raised in NY, did. But by then it was too late.