I wish I had read Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson before I began my ministry. Unfortunately it wasn’t written yet. It was written in 2007 and I am a little disappointed that I didn’t discover it until the end of 2010. I stumbled on it the way I stumble on many books. Our Directing Pastor here at University, Rev.
I am so tempted to give some examples of well known situations of cognitive dissonance in popular culture but, if I did, I would get angry emails. But we all know someone who holds and opinion that we know to be just completely absurd. And we all know someone for whom that opinion is so firm that even trying to share conflicting data is an exercise in futility. The more dissonant the information, the harder they will work to disprove it. So how do people who are otherwise rational get to places of holding irrational views? One step at a time. The authors do a wonderful job of explaining how we take small steps with small incremental justifications until we are so far away from the rational that we just can’t get back there.
I don’t have the time nor the expertise to give this book a full treatment but it is worth reading for chapter 3 alone. Chapter 3 is about our memories, how unreliable they actually are, and how they feed our need to reduce dissonance to recalling most vividly things that fit into the frameworks we create. This might be the most useful part of the book for life in the church. Memory, both individual and corporate is one of the powerful forces at work in the life (or death) of a church. A better understanding of how we process the past might go a long way in our effort to move toward the future.
If you work in the church or just love the church, this might be very well worth your time. You will likely see not only see the behaviors of others in a clearer light, but your own transgressions as well.