Quotes from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

Carol Tavris ·  0 pages

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“History is written by the victors, but it's victims who write the memoirs.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“It's the people who almost decide to live in glass houses who throw the first stones.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“In the horrifying calculus of self-deception, the greater the pain we inflict on others, the greater the need to justify it to maintain our feelings of decency and self-worth.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“Most people, when directly confronted by evidence that they are wrong, do not change their point of view or course of action but justify it even more tenaciously. Even irrefutable evidence is rarely enough to pierce the mental armor of self-justification. When we began working on this book, the poster boy for "tenacious clinging to a discredited belief" was George W. Bush. Bush was wrong in his claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, he was wrong in claiming that Saddam was linked with Al Qaeda, he was wrong in predicting that Iraqis would be dancing joyfully in the streets to receive the American soldiers, he was wrong in predicting that the conflict would be over quickly, he was wrong in his gross underestimate of the financial cost of the war, and he was most famously wrong in his photo-op speech six weeks after the invasion began, when he announced (under a banner reading MISSION ACCOMPLISHED) that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“We need a few trusted naysayers in our lives, critics who are willing to puncture our protective bubble of self-justifications and yank us back to reality if we veer too far off. This is especially important for people in positions of power.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts



“Most people, when directly confronted by evidence that they are wrong, do not change their point of view or course of action but justify it even more tenaciously. Even irrefutable evidence is rarely enough to pierce the mental armor of self-justification.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“What, then, was the new strategy he proposed? More troops and more money. For him, any other option was unthinkable. It would mean he had made a colossal mistake.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“The trouble is that once people develop an implicit theory, the confirmation bias kicks in and they stop seeing evidence that doesn’t fit it.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“Science is a form of arrogance control.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield. —George Orwell, 1946”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts



“This habit starts awfully early. Social psychologist Marilynn Brewer, who has been studying the nature of stereotypes for many years, once reported that her daughter returned from kindergarten complaining that “boys are crybabies.”25 The child’s evidence was that she had seen two boys crying on their first day away from home. Brewer, ever the scientist, asked whether there hadn’t also been little girls who cried. “Oh yes,” said her daughter. “But only some girls cry. I didn’t cry.” Brewer’s little girl was already dividing the world, as everyone does, into us and them. Us is the most fundamental social category in the brain’s organizing system, and it’s hardwired.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“Prejudices emerge from the disposition of the human mind to perceive and process information in categories. “Categories” is a nicer, more neutral word than “stereotypes,” but it’s the same thing. Cognitive psychologists consider stereotypes to be energy-saving devices that allow us to make efficient decisions on the basis of past experience; help us quickly process new information and retrieve memories; make sense of real differences between groups; and predict, often with considerable accuracy, how others will behave or how they think.24 We wisely rely on stereotypes and the quick information they give us to avoid danger, approach possible new friends, choose one school or job over another, or decide that that person across this crowded room will be the love of our lives.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield. —George Orwell (1946)”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“It is considered unhealthy in America to remember mistakes, neurotic to think about them, psychotic to dwell upon them. —playwright Lillian Hellman”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“certain categories of us are more crucial to our identities than the kind of car we drive or the number of dots we can guess on a slide—gender, sexuality, religion, politics, ethnicity, and nationality, for starters. Without feeling attached to groups that give our lives meaning, identity, and purpose, we would suffer the intolerable sensation that we were loose marbles floating in a random universe. Therefore, we will do what it takes to preserve these attachments. Evolutionary psychologists argue that ethnocentrism—the belief that our own culture, nation, or religion is superior to all others—aids survival by strengthening our bonds to our primary social groups and thus increasing our willingness to work, fight, and occasionally die for them. When things are going well, people feel pretty tolerant of other cultures and religions—they even feel pretty tolerant of the other sex!—but when they are angry, anxious, or threatened, the default position is to activate their blind spots.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts



“Is the brain designed to make us flare in anger when we think we are being attacked? Fine—but most of us learn to count to ten and find alternatives to beating the other guy with a cudgel. An appreciation of how dissonance works, in ourselves and others, gives us some ways to override our wiring. And protect us from those who can’t.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“What can I possibly have in common with perpetrators of murder and torture?” It is much more reassuring to believe that they are evil and be done with them.14 We dare not let a glimmer of their humanity in the door, because it might force us to face the haunting truth of cartoonist Walt Kelly’s great character Pogo, who famously said: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“When two people produce entirely different memories of the same event, observers usually assume that one of them is lying. […] But most of us, most of the time, are neither telling the whole truth nor intentionally deceiving. We aren’t lying; we are self-justifying. All of us, as we tell our stories, add details and omit inconvenient facts; we give the tale a small, self-enhancing spin; that spin goes over so well that the next time we add a slightly more dramatic embellishment; we justify that little white lie as making the story better and clearer – until what we remember may not have happened that way, or even may not have happened at all. […] History is written by the victors, and when we write our own histories, we do so just as the conquerors of nations do: to justify our actions and make us look and feel good about ourselves and what we did or what we failed to do. If mistakes were made, memory helps us remember that they were made by someone else.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“We want to hear, we long to hear, “I screwed up. I will do my best to ensure that it will not happen again.” Most of us are not impressed when a leader offers the form of Kennedy’s admission without its essence, as in Ronald Reagan’s response to the Iran-Contra scandal, which may be summarized as “I didn’t do anything wrong myself, but it happened on my watch, so, well, I guess I’ll take responsibility.”3 That doesn’t cut it.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“Nothing predicts future behavior as much as past impunity.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts



“The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none. —historian and essayist Thomas Carlyle”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“When politicians’ backs are against the wall, they may reluctantly acknowledge error but not their responsibility for it. The phrase “mistakes were made” is such a glaring effort to absolve oneself of culpability that it has become a national joke—what the political journalist Bill Schneider called the “past exonerative” tense.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“American parents, teachers, and children were far more likely than their Japanese and Chinese counterparts to believe that mathematical ability is innate; if you have it, you don’t have to work hard, and if you don’t have it, there’s no point in trying. In contrast, most Asians regard math success, like achievement in any other domain, as a matter of persistence and plain hard work. Of course you will make mistakes as you go along; that’s how you learn and improve. It doesn’t mean you are stupid.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“to resolve the dissonance between “I love this person” and “This person is doing some things that are driving me crazy” will enhance their love story or destroy it.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“Consider the famous syllogism “All men are mortal; Socrates is a man; therefore Socrates is mortal.” So far, so good. But just because all men are mortal, it does not follow that all mortals are men, and it certainly does not follow that all men are Socrates.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts



“No one really knows human nature, men as well as women, who has not lived in the bondage of marriage, that is to say, the enforced study of a fellow creature.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“It’s the people who almost decide to live in glass houses who throw the first stones.”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“There are plenty of good reasons for admitting mistakes, starting with the simple likelihood that you will probably be found out anyway—by”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


“It's the people who almost decide to live in glass houses who throw the first stones”
― Carol Tavris, quote from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts


About the author

Carol Tavris
Born date September 17, 1944
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