Posted by: Kathleen Mix | July 27, 2011

Mistakes Were Made – Review

Review:
Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)
Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

If you’d like to know why marriages fall apart, why people believe they’ve been abducted by aliens, why Bill Clinton couldn’t admit ‘yes, I had sex with that woman’, why psychotherapists defend their beliefs in repressed memories even when they’re proven wrong, or why innocent people will confess to a crime, read this book.

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) is a fascinating study of self-justification and something called “cognitive dissonance”. Basically cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs when we have a belief or opinion that conflicts with something we do or say.
For example, we believe we are good writers and our story is fresh and wonderful. We query an agent and he writes back saying our work is amateurish, dull, and will never sell. His opinion conflicts with our deeply held belief in our talent.
We have three choices:
One: We can accept he is right, we are wrong, and we stink. Delete the file from our computers and go back to gardening. (This might be the reaction of someone with extremely low self-esteem.)
Two: We can consider the possibility that our work might not be fabulous and look at it again, hoping to improve.
Three: We can tell ourselves he is a lousy agent and he wasn’t our first choice anyway. Who would want to work with someone so stupid and rude? He doesn’t deserve the fees he’d collect from being allowed to handle our book. We throw his reply in the trash, ignore his comments, and send the same pages and query to someone else.
Choice three is self-justification at work. We can’t be wrong or have made a mistake in our assessment of our work, so the problem must be the other guy.
Chapter Five in Mistakes Were Made is titled Crime and Disorder. In it, mystery and suspense writers will find valuable insights into the thoughts and actions of police detectives and prosecutors. Do you know the difference between an interview and an interrogation? “An interview is a conversation designed to get general information from a person, an interrogation is designed to get a suspect to admit guilt.” Police interrogate suspects when they are convinced of the person’s guilt. And once they’ve decided the person is guilty, they’ll go to great lengths to prove their belief is correct.
Chapter Six is valuable for romance writers and everyone who is married, has been married, or ever plans to marry. It is titled Love’s Assassin: Self-justification in Marriage. The proverbial rose-colored glasses we use to view our spouses in the first few years of marriage are actually explained by self-justification. We married this guy and we’re smart so, logically, he must be wonderful. But after a few years, we may not want to admit we made a mistake, and we start justify staying with him by emphasizing the positive and overlooking the negative. The extreme of this behavior is seen in abused spouses who will justify staying in a marriage because ‘he’s just under stress’, ‘he’s a good person when he’s not drunk’, ‘the children need a father’, etc.
The authors’ explanations of why former spouses vilify the other person is priceless. Whether we view an action as malicious and brutal or morally justified depends on whether we’re the perpetrator or the victim. The person who cheats can find dozens of reasons why he was forced into it by his frigid, bitch of a wife. She is the one at fault, because he is a good person and doesn’t hurt others.
Mistakes Were Made is a valuable resource for writers and an interesting read for everyone. Find a copy. You’ll understand yourself, your characters, and the people around you much better.

“We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right.” – George Orwell (1946)

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)
Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
Harcourt, Inc. 2007
ISBN 978-0-15-101098-1

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