“Mistakes were made (but not by me)”: Part 1

This book can be purchased at: http://www.amazon.ca/Mistakes-Were-Made-But-Not/dp/0156033909

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 9.10.00 AMThe object of this first post it to review the Introduction and prepare for what comes in the subsequent chapters.

This book by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson first caught my attention six years ago.  I bought it just because of the title, but as I read through it, I found it fascinating.

The book looks at why the human condition tends to make us not want to accept the fact that we all make mistakes. On page two, the authors note that we not only avoid admitting that we’re wrong, but when confronted with proof of our mistakes, we often do not change our course of action and may defend it more tenaciously.

In the book there are several references to the presidency of George Bush, but we in Canada could more recently point to Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford. The authors suggest that there is a difference between what a guilty man says to the public to convince them of something that he knows is untrue (“I did not have sex with that woman”), and the process of persuading himself that he did a good thing.

“Self-justification is more powerful and more dangerous than an explicit lie”

Self justification helps us to minimize our mistakes in our own eyes. Self justification is also the reason that “everyone can see the hypocrite in action except the hypocrite”. Some examples that might hit home:

  • Modifying our expense reports.
  • Failing to report some extra cash income on our tax returns.
  • Writing personal emails or surfing the net while at the office.

We tend to justify these things to ourselves by saying that:

  • We are making up for expenses where we didn’t get a receipt
  • The government taxes us enough already and wastes our money.
  • Emails and surfing are perks of the job.

An interesting side effect of justification happens when we introduce the human memory into the equation. Many people believe that they have an infallible memory, but science has proven that humans fuse memory’s and selectively remember only what they want to.
Once we justify an action to ourselves, we tend to believe that is what actually happened.

The authors cite an example of a case in California where a husband was arrested for the alleged murder of his wife. The police had two witnesses with conflicting stories. One was a woman who had no criminal record and no incentive to lie and the other was a career criminal facing six years in prison. The woman had calendars and her boss to back up her story and the criminal had only his word. The police chose the word of the criminal.

This book explains why things that seem less than logical happen. Why religious zealots murder in the name of God, why CEO’s justify their actions and salaries and why priests molest children. It forces us to look at our own behaviour and I learned as much the second time through as I did with my first read.




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One Response to “Mistakes were made (but not by me)”: Part 1

  1. Mojtaba says:

    Seems like a really interesting read and one to advocate self examination. Imagine if I was so preoccupied with my own mistakes that I would not even notice other people’s!

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