by Charles A. Monagan
Nov 7, 2011
11:23 AM
On Connecticut

"Denial" Isn't Just a River in Egypt


As someone who never lost power in the Great Halloween Snowstorm of 2011, I have been able to watch events unfold between Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) and its customers with some level of detachment. (Disclaimer: I am a United Illuminating customer, and also was fortunate enough to not have lost power during Tropical Storm Irene, either—but we did get pounded with snow in the winter and flooded a bit during the spring, so it hasn't been all rainbows and sunshine this year.)

Other than checking daily to see when my family and friends in the affected areas would be getting their electricity—and normal lives—restored, I've been fascinated in viewing the regular press conferences given by CL&P president Jeffrey Butler. I watched with the rest of you as he first said that they hadn't received enough warning about the storm's severity, and then was forced to eat his words by pretty much every meterologist in the state. Then he tried to tell everyone that CL&P had requested help before the storm but that was also quickly disputed by other power companies, who suggested that CL&P was not being in honest when disclosing whether they had paid for previous help in a prompt manner. And finally, we all are abundantly aware of CL&P's repeated inability to meet their own publicly stated restoration goals.

As this now-absurd situation continues, I've been trying to figure out if Butler has been intentionally lying to his customers or just in a state of cataclysmic denial. I guess the conspiracy theorist in me believes that he might be getting up there with a grand plan to just "deny, deny, deny" and hope it'll all work out before proven otherwise, but his behavior just seems to be more in line with human nature.

Most people when caught in the wrong tend to initially blame someone else for their mistakes—"It wasn't my fault I was late for work, it was that slow driver I was caught behind!" (I'm sure you can come up with any number of other examples, from your own life or what you see in the news every day.) Very few people stand up immediately and say, "Yeah, I messed up. Blame me." You only get those kinds of admissions when someone has been backed into a corner, or from someone who is used to regularly being accountable and accepting blame in the media, like a professional athlete. ("I lost the game for us when I threw that fastball down the middle to Big Papi and he put it over the Green Monster.")

In stressful situations—like a news conference before dozens of cameras and hostile, frustrated politicians—many people fall back to "basic human survival skills" when confronted with negative information, and will try to say anything (including telling outright lies) that will shift the spotlight from themselves. People will also deny the reality of a situation if it doesn't fit with their preconceived beliefs by "motivated reasoning"—i.e., ignoring the facts if they don't fit with the picture you wish were the truth. Mr. Butler talking about "the good job" done by CL&P in preparing for the storm (which doesn't seem to be the case, even objectively) falls into this category. In other words, he can't be honest with us because he's not even being honest with himself.

Or so it appears. Maybe he is lying on purpose ... who can tell anymore?

Of course, all this doesn't exonerate Mr. Butler and CL&P in any way. Unlike the rest of us, he is paid a generous salary out of the highest-in-the-nation electric rates we pay to stand up and answer the tough questions in critical times like this, and to tell the truth, even if it's uncomfortable for him and us. And it's this lack of honesty—intentional or not—that has exacerbated an already intolerable situation.

"Denial" Isn't Just a River in Egypt

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