"Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)"
"Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)" by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
I was introduced to this book by my best friend and was very eager to read it. The past couple of years I have been very adamant about personal recovery and improvement, and I thought I had seen it all, until I found this one. I know about Buddhism and positive affirmations, East to West philosophies, and now I have been enlightened to a book about the cognitive dissonance theory. After reading a few chapters I already began to see myself and my actions from a completely different perspective. We self-justify and rationalize our behavior to create less dissonance of who we think we are. They describe this process as a pyramid: we all start at the top and make choices that often times lands ourselves at the bottom, usually completely unaware that we have strayed far away from our initial morals.
A simple example they used was of a professor of philosophy and ethics who was staying in a hotel and ended up dropping his pen and leaving an ink stain on the comforter. At first he was going to report it to the manager, even though he didn't want to have to pay for the damage. But when he went out with his friends later and discussed it, they told him that the hotel expects things of that nature to happen and damages are already included into the price of the room. And suddenly he started justifying his mistake so he wouldn't have to pay for it.
A more extreme example is of a man who wrote a memoir about his time in a concentration camp during the Holocaust; this book was internationally acclaimed and compared among the greats, including Anne Frank's "The Diary of a Young Girl". Several years later they discovered that the author never survived a concentration camp, let alone, he wasn't even Jewish! He wanted an answer to all the questions he had from his childhood, including the scar he had on his forehead. Now, he wasn't lying openly, he truly believed that he had survived the Holocaust, and he created his own memory from stories of true survivors. Read the book for further detail, it's fascinating.
I find books like these always helpful for me to be cognizant of why I make certain decisions and have enough self-awareness to change my justifications if need be, until they make me question my reality. Chapter 3, "Memory, the Self-Justifying Historian", almost drove me insane. Just like I stated above how that man created his own memory, we're guilty of it too; our brain changes memories, sometimes for self-justification, sometimes just because of time. A woman recalled reading a book with her father and had a very fond memory of that time together only to discover that the book was published after her father had died. She reconstructed her memory because she wanted to believe they had experienced that together, however, that was physically impossible. She couldn't remember who she actually DID read that book with.
Being the natural "conspiracy theory" believer, I started questioning my whole life. Did I really sprain my ankle racing my brother to the park when I was six?? Did any of my experiences as a child actually exist?? Was I really in a relationship with this guy?? And then the terrifying question sunk into my gut, "Do I live in the Matrix"??
To some (maybe most) people that may sound absurd, but to me it was real. I mean logically it makes sense right?? If our memories can easily be shifted and misremembered, per se false, maybe we live in a simulated, false reality. And our memories never even happened, but are rather an effect of the ideas placed into our mind...
Anyway, after a few days of reevaluating my life, someone said something to me that helped re-shift my focus from conspiracy to serenity. He said: "What does it matter??" Upon hearing that, I argued profusely that I wanted to be certain of my own life and be the creator of my truth; but after ruminating on those four words, I began to accept them. What does it matter, B Noelle?? And just like when I was a little girl after watching "The Truman Show", and accepting the fact that I might be videotaped (of course, only after I made my mother swear on her mother's grave [my grandmother was still alive at this point], did I calm down on the idea that there were constant machinations against me. I also tried to make my life very boring so nobody would want to watch and would change the channel. But eventually I began to accept that it was highly unlikely, still probable!, but highly unlikely that the whole world would be interested in watching my life), I slowly tolerated the idea that I may or may not be in The Matrix.
Those four words hold so much meaning. What. Does. It. Matter. ?? If I do live in The Matrix, unless Laurence Fishburne decides to give me the red pill, I have no choice over the matter. So why not enjoy life and enjoy the present which is currently my reality. Why waste the precious time I have on Earth worrying about living my life, and just live!! I don't want to look back and possess memories of grandeur and happiness that were only constructed to compensate for the years I sat in my basement hiding. I want to breathe in the oxygen produced by trees, I want to float away as the wind brushes across my skin, I want to feel the touch of love in my heart and in my soul. So little by little, day by day, I slowly begin to let go of my intrinsic need to control everything; to watch the clouds go by, and until I hit that wall out at sea, live those four words, What does it matter??
I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to improve themselves, but with a word of caution. This book will ruin your life if you're not ready for it, which as you read earlier, I wasn't at first. It will open your eyes to your past and future actions, and make you reanalyze situations. It could change your life for the better, if you're truly willing to change, and why not?? What are your self-justifying reasons not to??
And just like Morpheus says in the movie, "Don't think you are, know you are."
Be the you you want to be. Not the you they tell you to be.