Mistakes were Made

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick. Jeremiah 17:9

Everybody else but me; everybody else but me
He was talking to those people back in Galilee
Anybody else but me
– Don Francisco

The most frightening book that I have ever come across in my life is not one that comes from the pen of Stephen King, Dean Koontz or any one of the many horror writers who earn their living by scaring people out of their wits. No, it is a book with the seemingly boring title Mistakes were Made (but not by me).

Written by social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, the book is a fascinating study of the way in which human beings refuse to accept information that conflicts with their dearly held beliefs. Conflicting information causes ‘cognitive dissonance’, and the way in which the human brain reduces this mental discomfort is to create blind spots that blocks out the information that causes the dissonance. And so, Tavris and Aronson tell us, we end up deceiving ourselves in order to sustain our mental equilibrium.

This explains why we are attracted to information that confirms our own biases, why we love to play the blame game and why our memories are so highly selective. It also explains why a number of American presidents referred to their own massive blunders by saying ‘mistakes were made’, as though the mistakes made themselves.

The scary thing about the book is that it exposes the reader to the dark mechanisms at work in his (or her) own heart and mind, revealing how wrong we are when we think we are not quite as wrong as others.

I heartily recommend this book to all believers, especially to my fellow recovering Pharisees.

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