Friday, March 12, 2010

Mistakes Were Made! (But Not By Me...)

The Winder lent me a book last week.  She called me on the phone, told me the title, and asked if I wanted to borrow it.  I said, "why sure, send it over." After receiving the book, I opened it and read the first page only to discover that I had already read that book.  Recently too.  I read the book and had immediately forgotten it.

For this reason, I will now do book reports.  When I finish a book, I'm going to post a report here.  Did you like book reports in school?  I loved the book reports.  I wish I could get a job doing book reports. 

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me):
Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson


First, let me tell you how I ended up reading this one.  I take issue when people play the blame game.  I also believe that the world lacks accountability.  Think about it... how often do you hear someone say, "Oops!  I screwed up"?  Not very often.  So one day Ryan left a comment on one of my posts suggesting that I read this Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) book.  I jumped all over that one.  Especially since Amazon had it for $4.97 and I'm an Amazon Prime member and get free two-day shipping.  That Amazon Prime business is kinda worth it, by the way.

(If Ryan had a blog, I'd link to it, but Ryan has no blog.  He's that smart and witty blogless dude from San Diego who's little brother grew up with the Winder's husband and who found us all because of an airplane ride wherein he sat next to Megan.  Weird, huh?!  This planet is so very small.)

Here's what I learned from this book:

- Humans justify.  They make a decision.  And after they make a decision they make all sorts of other decisions that justify the first decision.  You and I want to feel good about the decisions we make.  If you make a decision, and you find yourself doubting that decision, your actions will generally turn to justification instead of looking at the decision for a mistake.  Would you care for an example?

Let's say I go out and buy this awesome vehicle - a Porsche Cayman.  The sticker price on a Cayman S is 61,500 - a smokin' deal for a Porsche.  But for me and my family, the only thing dumber than buying a Cayman S would be the purchase of a Cayman Island.  Buying a Cayman S would be a bad decision and a very bad mistake.  Now, instead of looking at the car and proclaiming loudly that, "I totally screwed up," I would begin to justify my decision.  First, I'd go around telling you that I got "a great deal on it" and that "the dealership was trying to get rid of 'em all and gave it to me for almost nothing."  After I had made an effort at convincing everyone that I got a great deal on the car, I'd immediately try to get anyone, someone, everyone, to buy a Cayman too.  'Cause if all of you buy a Cayman S, then surely I made the right decision.

"Our efforts at self-justification are all designed to serve our need to feel good about what we have done, what we believe, and who we are." Page 39.

In regards to this justification stuff, people end up justifying themselves into corruption.  Want an example?  Politicians.  They start out with the best intentions and they want to make principled decisions for our country, but slowly, like sweet molasses, those politicians just lose it.  On page 37, the book says, "How do you get an honest man to lose his ethical compass?  You get him to take one step at a time, and self-justification will do the rest."  And on page 38, it says: "All of us, to preserve our belief that we are smart, will occasionally do dumb things.  We can't help it.  We are wired that way.  But this does not mean that we are doomed to keep striving to justify our actions after the fact.  A richer understanding of how and why our minds work as they do is the first step toward breaking the self-justification habit.  And that, in turn, requires us to be more mindful of our behavior and the reasons for our choices.  It takes time, self-reflection, and willingness."

After I read that last little bit, it dawned on me that the people who need this book the most will never read it!  Funny, huh?  Those justifying fools will justify their way out of any sort of self help!

Here's more of what I learned:

- People are biased.  Period.  You and I have made our decisions and cannot be coerced to either side of that decision.  This is precisely why debates over politics turn heated.  You have picked your position.  Your opponent has picked their decision.  Neither of you will switch, so save your breath and agree that you disagree.  I've also learned that once you/I make a decision, we only see facts that support that decision.  Now I laugh in the general direction of anyone who claims to be unbiased.

- Memories are made to justify.  When you and I remember something, we stamp that memory in our brain so as to justify.  When you see something, you see it favorably - to support a belief or decision made.  The human mind will remember stuff in a way that supports what you want to remember, not necessarily what really happened.  For this reason,  a person's memory is as reliable as quicksand.  Page 93 says, "False memories allow us to forgive ourselves and justify our mistakes, but sometimes at a high price: an inability to take responsibility for our lives.  An appreciation of the distortions of memory, a realization that even deeply felt memories might be wrong, might encourage people to hold their memories more lightly, to drop the certainty that their memories are always accurate, and to let go of the appealing impulse to use the past to justify problems of the present.  If we are to be careful about what we wish for because it might come true, we must also be careful which memories we select to justify our lives, because then we will have to live by them."

Not everyone, however, remembers events inaccurately to support their cause and/or story.  "Every once in a while someone steps forward to speak up for truth, even when the truth gets in the way of a good, self-justifying story.  It's not easy, because it means taking a fresh, skeptical look at the comforting memory we have lived by, scrutinizing it from every angle for its plausibility, and, no matter how great the ensuing dissonance, letting go of it."

- From now on, I will look sideways at scientific research.  I'm biased about people being biased.  This means I think those performing research have decided beforehand what they want to find.  There are several examples in the book about studies in the real world that began with bias.  One such study was one proclaiming rather loudly that Autism was a direct result of immunizations.  I'm not going to go into it here, however.  There's a whole chapter in the book about science and how it's tainted by cash and biased variables.

- All sorts of justification transpires in matrimony.  I also learned that more marriages would make it if we'd all learn to give the benefit of the doubt; if we'd all learn to overlook trivialities. We make decisions and judgments about our spouses.  And once we have made a decision about them, whether that decision be positive or negative, we only see actions and whatnot that support that decision.  This means that once you decide your beloved Spouse squeezes toothpaste incorrectly, you won't see it when he/she squeezes the toothpaste correctly.

Now that I've listed what the book taught me, here's he paragraph where I summarize and interpret:  I believe the world would be a better place if those making the mistakes (everyone) would say, "Mistakes were made.  By me!"  However, I don't believe our world is a forgiving world.  In order for the world to start admitting mistakes, that same world needs to start forgiving.

How's that for a new chicken or egg metaphor? 


    megan said...

    hmmm this is the heart of my spouse owns up to everything...EVERYTHING - I argue, justify and defensify on everything :) but HEY acknowledgement is the first step eh?
    **And I'd like to thank blogs for allwing for accurate memories WITH pictures (proof for my children that I did at least TRY...)

    Julia said...

    This is a great post. I think I will like these book reports. In my opinion, pride is at the heart of it all. It is what gets in the way of our progression. I have realized that it is so empowering to look for the ways that I messed up in a situation because then I have the power to change things. If it is always someone else's fault, I have given all my power away and I am left helpless.

    Lars said...

    You mean to tell me it is unhealthy to harbor hate and hold grudges? Curses! But Rabid, justifying is soooo much fun....

    Winder said...

    I never have anything to justify. I am perfect. He, He He!

    Ryan said...

    hey rabid - enjoyed seeing your post today. great to hear that you nabbed and subsequently enjoyed the book. not sure how you should read the fact that two people recommended you read the same book about self-justification within a two-month span, but i'm sure you'll find a way to come to terms with it ;).

    no wonder you didn't need your copy of the book, winder! :)

    rabidrunner said...

    Actually, the book that The Winder sent my way was a different book. I didn't clarify. But that Winder situation was the reason I plan now to keep track of what I read - else the precious words and thoughts will ooze out of my noggin through osmosis. Something about air being heavier than the words I read? Or is it vice versa...? And the brain is a thin, precious diffusable membrane...?