Thursday, June 02, 2011

Book Review: Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)

Mistakes were Made (But Not by Me) Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
By Carol Tavris and Eliot Aronson
Non-Fiction, Psychology and Behavioral Analysis

You might like this book if you want to consider your own tendencies when you make mistakes or you are interested in learning more about the concepts of self-justification and cognitive dissonance and how these affect both the lives of individuals and society.

This was not an easy book to read (listen to), but not because of difficult language or complicated concepts. In fact, the authors did a great job of explaining their thesis in clear terms, without psychobabble and without a sense of arrogance. The reason this book is hard is because it is about a hard subject-how we respond when we make mistakes. Ugh. Uncomfortable. Since we all make them, however, it seems an important and universal subject to tackle.

The book investigates mistakes made on all levels, from those that affect our marriage and other personal relationships to those that affect whether or not our country goes to war. The universal human condition seems to be one of seeking to protect ourselves from the pain of cognitive dissonance (having two opposing, right/wrong ideas vying for space in our brain at the same time) by engaging in self-justification. We tend to think that mistake=failure, so we get creative and think about mistakes in a way that allows us to not think of ourselves as a failure, as stupid, or as unworthy. This leads to a lapse in integrity and we become unwilling to take full responsibility for our actions and thoughts.

The key to solving this problem, say the authors, is to learn to understand our cognitive dissonance and either resolve it or live with it rather than lying or sidestepping to avoid it. It is essential to come to think of mistakes not as failures but as learning experiences on the road to good judgement  and be willing to admit to them and rectify the damage done.

Heavy-duty stuff, and stuff that life is full of every day.
Still hard, though.

Overall, I think it is a valuable book to read and consider. I would have liked it if fewer examples came from political hot subjects of the last 50 years or so, but I understand why those examples were included. It just seems to me that politics is SO subjective during the generation in which it is happening that for me the power of the example was diluted based on my opinion of the situation. When the examples came from older history (where we've had longer to think about and understand the full complexity of the situation) or from personal experiences, they had more applicability for me.

My favorite chapter by far was the last one. It summed things up very well and put into context the many ideas put forward by the authors. It acknowledged the challenges inherent in trying to do better at handling our mistakes and gave some clear direction on learning those skills.

1 comment:

  1. I have heard of this book...maybe I'll have to give it a try.


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