Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)

Greta Christina has written several posts about the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson, saving me from having to add this to our reading list! (Well, I’ll still be reading it, but I’ll be lazy and pass on writing a review.)

A quick summary. Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts is about cognitive dissonance: the uncomfortable-at-best feeling you get when things you do, or things that happen, contradict your beliefs — about yourself or the world. It’s about the unconscious justifications, rationalizations, and other defense mechanisms we use to keep that dissonance at bay. It’s about the ways that these rationalizations perpetuate and entrench themselves. And it’s about some of the ways we may be able to derail them. The book is fascinating and readable; it’s clear, well-written, well-researched, loaded with examples, and often very funny.



Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

Related Articles


  1. Surely, rationalisations aren't merely a way of explaining away errors, or even of becoming comfortable with decisions we consciously make, but are fundamentally necessary to maintaining an illusion of conscious choice over decisions that were made more or less unconsciously?

    That rationalisations also get applied to cover mistakes isn't surprising when they are a major component of conscious thought even in the absence of obvious mistakes.

  2. Another item for my already-bursting-at-the-seems Wishlist. Curse you, Donna! Cuuuuurse yoooouuuu!

    Seriously, I may have to bump this one up the list. Halfway through reading the review, I found myself thinking, "Don't we have to do this just to get out of bed in the morning?" Then of course, I quickly discovered that they make this very point.

    It is very easy to get into the mindset that stupid people do stupid things, but *I* don't do them because I'm not stupid. As skeptics, I think we are even maybe a little more prone to this than most. I have a little thought exercise where I try to imagine a world where everyone's value as a person is judged by the stupidest thing he or she has done. It is a sobering and uncomfortable thought to apply to one's own life. But the point is that this is often the way we judge others even though we would never think of judging ourselves by the same measuring stick.

  3. Well, I won't curse you Donna. This topic sent me on a 2-day excursion through various blogs and blog entries, many on Greta Christina's blog, but also various other linked blogs on religion and morality. Not to mention I've actually added 2 books to my Amazon list in the process.

Leave a Reply to waltdakindCancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button