I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading lately of both the print and audiobook variety, and want to share with you some of the more interesting books I’ve come across. So from time to time I’ll be sharing with you reviews for books that have caught my attention. I hope you enjoy them and maybe even add them to your reading pile!
Book review: MISTAKES WERE MADE (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts. Written by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. 292 pp, original edition Harcourt, 2007. Revised edition 2015.
With the trainwreck that is the 2016 US federal election in full swing, Americans and morbidly curious non-Americans (like me) get to watch campaigning politicians twist themselves in more knots than usual trying to distance themselves from past errors while polishing their present image. A big part of their gyrations are to disavow themselves of wrongdoings, distancing themselves from any blame that could potentially settle on their shoulders. They’ll do this even when blame seems obvious or their dodging and denials are patently, verifiably untrue.
This does little to help stereotypical images of lying politicians.
But what if they weren’t lying? Truth is a complicated and remarkably subjective thing. What if these and other Artful Dodgers were in fact representing the truth as they knew and saw it?
And what if we are guilty of the very same thing?
Self-deception and cognitive dissonance is the main topic at hand in Mistakes Were Made (but not by me). In this fascinating, thoroughly researched work, Tarvis and Aronson explore the very human habit of self-deception and truth twisting.
Ah ha!, you might say, now I can learn why everyone isn’t as honest as me!
Actually, in this book you are going to learn why all of us are prone to distorting truth. And yes, “all of us” includes you.
At the core of Tarvis and Aronson’s work is an examination of cognitive dissonance – the mental state we find ourselves in when we have two conflicting notions about a subject or issue (think along the lines of “Drinking too much coffee is bad for your health” and then downing a pot and a half of java each day). Cognitive dissonance can be very uncomfortable, especially when created when we learn of facts that challenge long-held beliefs, biases, or ideas about who we are as individuals. We will do just about anything to reduce dissonance. In many cases, the only way to reduce it is by changing how we interpret information, creating exceptions for ourselves, or redirecting culpability and blame towards others by means of explaining away our discomfort.
We are all prone to cognitive dissonance, and we are all also prone to twisting, distorting, or even changing the truth to deal with it. We’ll point our fingers everywhere except at our own chests, it seems. But despite this bleak outlook, Tavris and Aronson also give us some hope; those who make the effort to monitor our own beliefs, actions, and statements for evidence of dissonance and acknowledge it without judgement or reproach are better able to deal with it and reduce how much it clouds our judgements and decisions.
This book presents some fascinating and challenging ideas. The subjectivity of truth is examined, as is how and why we create biases to support our worldviews. The actions of influential people such as politicians, law enforcement officers, and therapists are examined in case studies. And while not everyone enjoys cross-referencing and reading footnotes as much as I do, the notes in this book are rich, descriptive, and well worth reading. It is an important book for anyone who puts their ideas and content out in the world – bloggers, speakers, and thinkers of all sorts. This book can help us become more critical and objective towards our own work. It can also help us take on criticism from others and deal with challenges to our work in a spirit of inquiry rather than defensiveness.
And if nothing else, it can add an interesting dimension to the often ridiculous and self-contradictory statements pouring from the presidential campaigns.
Is your curiosity piqued? Use the social share tools on this screen and share this review with others!