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Book Review: "Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)" by Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson

by Ruby Bayan - 10/16/07

I have to admit: I read the book twice. The first time, I bogged down after every other chapter because I needed to reconcile what I was reading with what I regarded as true. Many times the book talked about me, and how I justified some aspects of my life. The book actually portrays scenarios very close to my own circumstances!

So, the first time I read it, I felt defensive, because the renowned psychologists and authors, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, wrote chapters clearly explaining how I had self-justified my decisions in life, and how I made myself believe all the stories I told. I also read chapters filled with references to historical, as well as current events, supporting the authors’ theories of cognitive dissonance, prejudice, and hypocrisies in our governments and societies. Every page was an eye-opener that required some serious reflection.

When I reached the end, when all the angles of self-justification and self-deception were finally exhausted, I took a long pause. Then I read the book again, this time I was much more open to a better understanding of the principles the authors shared. Only then did I appreciate the nuances of this mental phenomenon of believing only what we want to believe in. “Believing is seeing.”

Tavris and Aronson did a marvelous and professional job explaining the self-justifying mechanisms of memory, law enforcement, marriage, and war. How we manipulate our own memories to validate our bad decisions; how officers of the law are “testilying” to back up their preconceived notions; how husbands and wives rationalize divorce; and how heads of state convince the people, and themselves, that they never make mistakes.

What really impressed me about Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) are the countless quotes and references to the words and actions of well-known personalities, celebrities, and politicians. The allusions could be construed as bold and audacious, but they are all public knowledge—quoted from news items, scientific journals, and research papers—and serve well to prove the authors’ theories.

So, if you’re curious to know how crooks, criminals, and evildoers can sleep at night, and how bitter couples and warring nations can live with themselves, grab this book. And, yes, read it twice.

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