that day I emailed back and fourth with Dr. Tavris. In one of her email’s she
told me about a book that she co-wrotewith Elliot
Aronsontitled Mistakes were made (but not by
ME): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts in
2007/2008 and that she and the other author are revising it at the end of 2014
adding new chapters.
already recommended this book to all the Virginia
lawmakers and now I am recommending it to all the readers of this blog.
It has something for everyone.
Here is a
small sampling of what I have taken away from Mistakes were made (but not by
ME): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts
We all share the
impulse to justify ourselves and avoid taking responsibility for any actions
that turn out to be harmful, immoral or stupid.
Most of us will
never be in a position to make decisions affecting the lives and deaths of
millions of people, but whether the consequences of our mistakes are trivial or
tragic, on a small scale or on a national canvas, most of us find it difficult,
if not impossible to say “I was wrong; I made a terrible mistake”. The higher
the stakes - emotional, financial, moral – the greater the difficulty.
In fact, most people
when directly confronted with proof they are wrong, do not change their point
of view or course of action but justify it even more tenaciously.
Lying to the public
to convince them of something you know is untrue is not the same as lying to
not only minimizes our mistakes and bad decisions it is also the reason that
everyone can see a hypocrite in action, except the hypocrite. It allows us to
create a distinction between our actions and our moral convictions.
has costs and benefits. It allows us to sleep at night. Without it we would
prolong the awful pangs or embarrassment, we would torture ourselves with
regret, we would agonize after almost every decision.
self-justification draws us deeper into disaster, like quicksand. It blocks our
ability to see our errors, let alone correct them. It distorts reality, keeping
us from getting all of the information we need to assess the issue clearly.
exacerbates prejudice and corruption, distorts memory, turns professional
confidence into arrogance and creates and perpetuates injustice.
Too often, out of
the best intentions, we do the very thing guaranteed to make matters worse.
Memories are pruned
and shaped by an ego-enhancing bias that blurs the edges of past events,
softens culpability and distorts what really happened.
distortions of our memory become the perverted logic of Self-justification.
Memories create our
stories, but our stories also create our memories.
the hardwired psychological mechanism that creates self-justification and
protects our certainties, self-esteem and tribal affiliations.
If new information
is consonant with our beliefs, we think it is well founded and useful “Just
what I’ve always said!” But if the new information is dissonant, then we
consider it biased or foolish; “What a dumb argument!” So powerful is the need
for consonance that when people are forced to look at discomforting evidence,
they will find a way to criticize it, distort or dismiss it so they can
maintain or even strengthen that existing belief. This mental contortion is
called the “confirmation bias”, once our minds are made up, it is hard to
change them. The confirmation bias even sees to it that no evidence – the absence
of evidence – is evidence for what we believe.
Most Americans know
they are supposed to say “we learn from our mistakes” but deep down they don’t believe
it for a minute. They think mistakes mean you are stupid. Mistake are treated
like a hot-potato, eager to get rid of them even if you have to toss it into
someone else’s lap.
Our greatest hope of
self-correction lies in making sure we have a few naysayers/critics around us who
will puncture our protective bubble of self-justification (denial) and yank us back into reality.
not learn from our mistakes unless we first admit that we made some. Whether in
our personal lives or an embarrassing professional mistake, facing that
intolerable realization is critical to growing and learning.
can not create a better system if we continue to refuse to accept the research,
data and experience that experts in specific fields have gathered just because
we might believe in an eye-for-an-eye or it’s better to be safe than sorry no
matter how many innocent or non-threats get swept up. Or worse, you simply
don’t like the messenger so you will ignore the entire message.
lawmakers would acknowledge that past legislative failures like creating new
and redefining current sex crimes, lowering the bar of guilt while expanding the
punishment and broadening the umbrella ofwho is labeled a “Sex Offender”while turning the Registry from an administrative tool into a vindictive
lifelong punishment then we could begin the trip down the road to reform.
they do finally acknowledge the train-has-run-off-the-tracks, they think their past
proposals and votes will be viewed as failures. So they continue to do more
harm by proposing more myth-based legislation to continue the façade of public
safety and that it's working.
But we all know it's not!
own lives, we all need to stop self-justifying when it is distorting reality, hurting
someone else or hurting ourselves.
someone criticizes, critiques or cautions you, instead of going on the
immediate defense take a minute to think about what they’ve said and what facts
there are to back up their statement before you respond. They could be saving
you from yourself; you just don’t see it because you’re so used to defending your
beliefs and actions.
want our elected officials to stop self-justifying, we must practice what we
preach. The alternative would be, hypocritical.