The Danger of Self-Justification
  • Thu, 04/17/2008
Printer-friendly versionSend to friendPDF version
All of us – to a greater or lesser extent – have a tendency to justify and rationalize our mistakes. It is part of our mindset that makes us try to flee from criticism and from having to make amends. At the very least, we sometimes try to find an excuse for our errors instead of shouldering the full weight of the blame.

This mindset can surface in all kinds of situations, even in our most private thoughts. It is a mindset bolstered and nourished by emotion, and if it comes to dominate our thinking, we can lose the ability to distinguish right from wrong.

This is because the power of emotional sentiment and self-interest, when coupled with a self-justifying mindset, is persuasive and dangerous. A person with this frame of mind is always ready to cover up his bad deeds or make them seem less onerous than they really are. The person does this at the expense of reason and logic. He ceases to think clearly. He only sees what serves his selfish interests, what absolves him from blame and responsibility.

In his mind, the fault is always someone else's. Worse still, it is never just an innocent mistake. That other person is always deliberately and maliciously in the wrong and without any excuse.

When we let our thoughts take us in this dangerous direction, we cease to be self-critical. Instead of acknowledging our mistakes and resolving to avoid them in the future, we become determined to commit the same mistake again and again.

The most serious problem is a person's ability to justify to himself his deliberate errors and misdeeds. It is possible for a person to convince himself that his worst transgressions and acts of injustice are true and correct. He can reconcile in his mind the most blatant contradictions with far-fetched interpretations that make integrity and deception synonymous terms. He ceases to distinguish his rights from the rights of others, his personal interests from the needs of society.

The self-justifying mind is one of oversimplifications. It is also very dismissive. It plays down the harm that one's bad and selfish deeds causes for other people, for society, and for the environment. When it cannot deny that harm, it always finds a way to rationalize it. By doing so, it belies the basic values and ethics that the person would otherwise be very well aware of and that are essential for the proper functioning of human society.

Turning a blind eye to one's mistakes is an easy way to avoid guilty feelings and a sense of responsibility. However, this means that those mistakes will never be confronted and remedied. They invariably becoming larger, uglier, and more deeply-entrenched over time. Ignoring mistakes or justifying them does not make those mistakes go away. The only way we can make positive changes within ourselves is to be true to ourselves and in our dealings with others.

[exerpted from the Arabic article "al-`Aql al-Tabrîrî fî al-Fi`l al-Ijtimâ`î"]