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  • Reverend James Squire

Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me

Updated: Feb 13, 2021

The title of this blog is the title of a book by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. I used a number of different theories in my Ethics class to help students understand why people do unethical things. They should have each politician read the work of Tavris and Aronson as they are deliberating on actions to hold the President and his enablers responsible for the insurrection. Better yet call on my ethics students to come down and lead the way.

I will share some of the thinking of Tavris and Aronson and my own thoughts to help you understand why Trump and his enablers have not backed down from their acts of sedition. It is all there in the research about why people can’t admit their mistakes. Watch the actions of Hawley and Cruz in particular.

The inability to say I made a mistake is based in self justification and cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is when you are forced to consider two things that don’t go together like a fair election and the facts that this is true and my desire to say that it isn't to advance my political career. If new information is consonant with our belief we say, “That is what I always said.” But if the information is dissonant, we consider it wrong or biased.

Research shows that when people become more certain they are right about something they did, they just can’t undo it. We live in a culture that equates mistakes with stupidity. Hawley and Cruz are smart. They cannot accept a stupid action as something they would do.

When most people are confronted by evidence that they are wrong, they double down on their point of view. Think of the actions of Cruz, Hawley, and others. It allows people to convince themselves that they did the best thing that they could have done. IN FACT, COME TO THINK OF IT, IT WAS THE RIGHT THING. This is why self-justification is more insidious than a lie. It allows people to vigorously convince others that they were right as well. What happens is that cognitive dissonance such as the election was a fraud but all evidence says that it is not causes people to attempt to try to resolve the two things that just don’t go together until they find a way to reduce their inner tension. Doubling down is often their strategy.”

Think of the last time that you or I made a mistake and how hard it may have been for us to admit it? Believe it or not we can learn something from all of this unethical behavior. I don’t think that any of the enablers should escape consequences as that will not hold us in good stead with the global community. I agree with George Will, a Conservative Republican, who wrote that Hawley and Cruz (and others) should walk around with an S on their chests. It doesn’t stand for Superman or Superwoman. It stands for Seditionist.

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