Self-Justification

UNPLEASANT TRUTHS

In Leadership by Jeff Czernicki

Last week’s big event was Amazon Prime Day, baby. It is one of my favorite days of the year because I can buy all kinds of stuff cheaper than I would usually pay for it. And that my friend is freaking awesome! That Coleman camping cot, the padded one? I just picked it up for $62! It was regularly $70! Great savings! We go camping about once every ten years!

Wait… What?

Ah, the human firewall called self-justification begins.

Look, when it comes to making ourselves feel better about those somewhat goofy to downright ignorant decisions we make, we can get creative. And unless you’re trying to justify taking money out of the collection basket at church, or potentially taking away someone’s livelihood, these misgivings are not earth shattering for most of us.

We can put most self-justifications down to things like the purchase or lease of that Lexus when our means or needs scream a Toyota. But c’mon. We work hard; we’re making more money than we ever had before and it fits our current intentions. We want a safe and finely engineered auto. One we won’t have to worry about and shows others how intelligent we are when it comes to making a major purchase. Who cares that it depreciated a sh*tload the second I drove it off the lot. And repairs and insurance were outrageous.  Oh, yeah. That was me.

Kinda makes ya giggle, doesn’t it? Yeah? Well, keep it to yourself.

The simple fact is that the true dissonance that takes place when we employ self-justification runs deeper than explaining why we just spent money on a car we didn’t need. It can come from ducking the truth about a lack of personal integrity, hiding infidelity from a spouse, or efforts to avoid losing our job.

In the book “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)” authors, Tavris Caroll and Elliot Aronson pare down past our excuse making mechanisms and speak frankly about self-justification and the reality of cognitive dissonance. A reality that promotes within us the belief that we did or said the best thing we could have. And upon further inspection, it was the right thing to do as well. Meanwhile, someone or something suffers. But don’t tell us that because it just isn’t so!

When we make justifying our behavior our primary effort, it is time to pump the brakes. The telltale sign that we are most likely spinning a web of bullsh*t to ourselves occurs in just this moment. Whether it is others or ourselves we are trying to hoodwink in this process, it is important to remember that our memory is silently sitting in the background. It nervously fidgets and twitches full well knowing the part it must play in this charade.

The authors write, “…between the conscious lie to fool others and unconscious self-justification to fool ourselves; there’s a  fascinating gray area patrolled by an unreliable, self-serving historian – memory…” The point made is that we culled and shaped our memory to serve our ego and diminish our accountability to what is going on here.

The defensive technique employed is one where we simply create a belief that we do things as we should, efficiently and as planned. We pull our weight and are damn diligent about it to boot man.

Ok then.

Here is where cognitive dissonance begins. The authors share renown social psychologist Leon Festinger’s thoughts on this topic. He says, “…Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs) that are psychologically inconsistent with one another…”

So when we find ourselves in some nonsensical situation, we will rationalize it by creating an illusion that makes us satisfactorily complacent with the situation. The brain can play tricks on us, as explained by Lee Ross. Within the design of our brains are subjective blind spots. But the trick played by the mind here bestows upon us this delusion. “Blind spots, what blind spots?” And thus we’ll  justify an act that doesn’t serve us.

“I know smoking is going to kill me eventually and I love Marlboro’s.” Crazy huh?

So what gives you may ask? If I am stuck in this rut of justifying actions that don’t serve me what is my recourse? Reducing your dissonance is the best place to start. Moreover, a specific starting point is exploring your values. Those that serve your self-esteem, your well-being. The values that speak to who “I am.” Not the beliefs created by years of assumptions and false interpretations.

Know this well: the mind is all about protecting itself from the discomfort of dissonance. But it is your values, your truth’s so to speak, that want full disclosure. Take responsibility and don’t fear the repercussions of a mistake made. Hell, what is a mistake in reality other than an opportunity to move forward in disguise? Own up to it and move forward abundantly.

An old proverb shared by Caroll and Aronson in the closing chapter tells it best. A man travels many miles to consult the wisest guru in the land. When he arrives, he asks the great man: “O wise guru, what is the secret of a happy life?” “Good judgment,” said the guru. “But, O wise guru,” says the man, “how do I achieve good judgment?” 

“Bad judgment,” says the guru.