Villain or Angel? Can a Lie Erase All the Good?

Researchers have found some people who always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, regardless of the outcome. They tend to have limited and difficult social lives.”Chronicle of Higher Education (06/06/2004),By JEFF ELDER

Somewhere in my busy life, I missed the story about Tania Head, president of the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network. In 2004, she was contacted by Gerry Bogacz, one of the organization’s founders. He had contacted her after hearing about a website Head had created for the survivors. Until then Bogacz’s group had little influence when it came to  issues regarding Ground Zero or its memorial. Head was powerful. She became the organization’s connection to decision-making and people listened.

According to the New York Times, “Ms. Head seemed dedicated to the cause of uniting and supporting the 9/11 survivors. She earned no money as president of the Survivors’ Network or as a volunteer tour guide at ground zero, and colleagues remember events that she sponsored at her own apartment. I still get moved when I think of her dignified, understated talk about an unimaginable and horrible loss,” said Rabbi Craig Miller, who arranged the program at Baruch that included Ms. Head.”

That understated talk centered around her journey to the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001 to meet her fiancee, David, for coffee. As she waited for the elevator on the 78th floor of the south tower, United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the Tower. Head barely escaped, contracting burns that led to permanent scars as she raced out of the Tower, never to see David again. She told about being given a wedding band, engraved, that she returned to the wife of a victim who asked her for the favor.

Head was the face of the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network. When she joined, important people began to listen. According to a new book, “The Woman Who Wasn’t There,” by Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo Jr., Head was the drive behind the Network to successfully, “preserve the two-tier staircase from 5 WTC that carried so many to safety.” She was even chosen to give Mayor Bloomberg and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani a tour of the WTC Tribute Center. She even presented the case of health concerns for survivors to the U.S. Congress and, more importantly, Head led the charge to allow survivors  “private access to ground zero as family members were. If they felt the need to revisit the site of the most horrific day in their lives they had to get online with the tourists.”

Head took the organization forward, something that is not in dispute. Unfortunately, everything else is.  “The Woman Who Wasn’t There,” outs Head as a liar. But why did she do it and why did she make up such an elaborate lie and why is she being vilified instead of praised?

Psychologist Dory Hollander, author of “101 Lies Men Tell Women: And Why Women Believe Them,” claims, “We’re just not practiced at telling the truth.”

Hollander also says that women tend to lie for just reasons such as “to spare someone’s feelings or to avoid conflict.” She also noted, “Women said a lie is an intentional untruth ‘that hurts someone.'”

Perhaps Head, (who apparently wasn’t even in the U.S. until 2003), felt that no one would even notice her if she didn’t lie, if she didn’t have a husband or fiancee. Maybe she really felt she needed more – empathy, inclusion – her lies were meant to paint a picture of Tania that was more pleasing to those she connected with at the Network. Would she have been accepted as just plain Tania? If she were a man, would he have needed to build up his portfolio to be embraced?

Was the lie enough to destroy all the good? Remember, she never received any money from the organization or from anyone for her efforts.

So is she a villain? She definitely needs some counseling.