Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)
Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts
Publication Date: May 2007
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Why do people dodge responsibility when things fall apart? Why the parade of public figures unable to own up when they screw up? Why the endless marital quarrels over who is right? Why can we see hypocrisy in others but not in ourselves? Are we all liars? Or do we really believe the stories we tell?Renowned social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson take a compelling look into how the brain is wired for self-justification. When we make mistakes, we must calm the cognitive dissonance that jars our feelings of self-worth. And so we create fictions that absolve us of responsibility, restoring our belief that we are smart, moral, and righta belief that often keeps us on a course that is dumb, immoral, and wrong.Backed by years of research and delivered in lively, energetic prose, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) offers a fascinating explanation of self-deceptionhow it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it.
CAROL TAVRIS is a social psychologist and author of Anger and The Mismeasure of Woman. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Scientific American, and many other publications. She lives in Los Angeles.ELLIOT ARONSON is a social psychologist and author of The Social Animal. The recipient of many awards for teaching, scientific research, writing, and contributions to society, he is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
PRAISE FOR CAROL TAVRIS’S ANGER"Witty, provocative, and impressively documented, this work lights a candle in cursed darkness."LOS ANGELES TIMESPRAISE FOR ELLIOT ARONSON’S THE SOCIAL ANIMAL"A rare gem of a book, easy to read but also scientifically sophisticated."CONTEMPORARY SOCIOLOGY
"Social psychologists Tavris and Aronson, each of whom has published other works, here tackle "the inner workings of self-justification," the mental gymnastics that allow us to bemoan the mote in our brother''s eye while remaining blissfully unaware of the beam in our own. Their prose is lively, their research is admirable and their examples of our arrogant follies are entertaining and instructive."
"A fascinating book... I recommend it to anyone who enjoys psychological and sociological studies. Sometimes floored, sometimes angry, sometimes sad, sometimes amused, but always interested, I can only hope that I will be able to apply some of what I learned in my own life."
"A pathbreaking book that could change forever how leaders think about the decisions they make . Crackles with new insights and understanding. A must read!"
"This book should make it to the top of most summer reading lists. It speaks to the forces that keep us repeating harmful mistakes, whether it''s an everyday personal issue or an organization-wide problem. I''m interested in reading this book for a deeper window into my own behavior, but also for insight into the reasons that corruption persists around the world and vexes so many organizational and individual efforts to fight it."
"In this pre-election time, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson''s book bears a very prescient message: Just how does one learn from one''s mistakes if one refuses to admit culpability? With straightforward language and a readable style, Tavris and Aronson''s book will open your eyes and improve your life - that is, it will if you let it."
"This book is charming and delightful. But mainly, it''s just damn smart. Armed with reams of scientific data and loads of real-world anecdotes, Tavris and Aronson explain how politicians, pundits, doctors, lawyers, psychotherapists--and oh yes, the rest of us--come to believe that we are right and reasonable... and why we maintain that dangerous self-deception in the face of glaring evidence to the contrary. Every page sparkles with sharp insight and keen observation. Mistakes were made--but not in this book!"
"To err is human, to rationalize even more so. Now, thanks to this brilliant book, we can finally see how and why even the best meaning people may justify terrible behavior. Mistakes Were Made will not turn us into angels, but it is hard to think of a better -- or more readable -- guide to the mind''s most devilish tricks."
"Tavris and Aronson-a dream team of two of psychology’s greatest communicators—investigate our self-serving explanations and malleable memories, explaining how well-meaning people stay the course when pursuing ill-fated ventures, then shuck responsibility when failure arrives. This is a fascinating exploration of our astonishing powers of self-justification."
"Combining far-ranging scholarship with lucid, witty prose, Tavris and Aronson illuminate many of the mysteries of human behavior -- why hypocrites never see their own hypocrisy, why couples so often misremember their shared history, why many people persist in courses of action that lead straight into quicksand. A delight to read, with surprising revelations in every chapter."
"This eye-opener of a book is essential reading, not because we''ve all made mistakes - certainly not! - but because we''ve all been victims of mistakes made by others. Why do these people behave so badly? Tavris and Aronson''s explanation is illuminating, entertaining, based on solid science, and highly relevant to our public and private lives."
"Please, somebody, get a copy of this book to the President and his cabinet right away. Read it aloud into the Congressional Record. If this book doesn''t change the way we think about our mistakes, then we''re all doomed."
"A revelatory study of how lovers, lawyers, doctors, politicians--and all of us--pull the wool over our own eyes. The politician who can''t apologize, the torturer who feels no guilt, the co-worker who''ll say anything to win an argument--in case you''ve ever wondered how such people can sleep at night, a new book by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson supplies some intriguing and useful insights. Thanks, in part, to the scientific evidence it provides and the charm of its down-to-earth, commonsensical tone, Mistakes Were Made is convincing. Reading it, we recognize the behavior of our leaders, our loved ones, and--if we''re honest--ourselves, and some of the more perplexing mysteries of human nature begin to seem a little clearer. By the book''s end, we''re far more attuned to the ways in which we avoid admitting our missteps, and intensely aware of how much our own (and everyone''s) lives would improve if we--and those who govern and lead us--understood the power and value of simply saying, ''I made a mistake. I''m sorry.''"
"Tavris and Aronson have combined their formidable skills to produce a gleaming model of social insight and scientific engagement. Make no mistake, you need to read this book."
"Written with the perfect combination of science and snap, this is a book that will change the way you think about self-deception--how it works, the harm it can cause, and how we can overcome it."
"Anecdote-rich...a ramble through the evasive tactics we employ when we''ve done something wrong and don''t want to face up to it. "Mistakes Were Made" is by turns entertaining, illuminating and--when you recognize yourself in the stories it tells--mortifying. It is certainly true that we can be artful to the point of self-delusion when we feel guilt for something we have done."
"This book casts a bright and penetrating light on how and why nation-states, organizations, and individuals get into malignant messes. But it also shows how they (NOT us) cluelessly keep repeating these offensive, sometimes criminal acts. Tavris and Aronson don''t let any of us off the hook but they do teach us how to avoid hanging ourselves on that hook again and again. One of the most needed and important books for our time."