by Tara Hebbar and Diya Barmecha
“I had to, it wasn’t my fault,” This is a line that many of us have said or often thought of. We are so quick to blame and put down others for making a small mistake but when we do the same, our minds always find a way to justify it. What is the reason for this? To what extent can our mind justify our actions while condemning another for doing the same?
Whether it is breaking the traffic signal or forging an age on a ticket, there are several such actions which are against the law or unethical, but commonly done. When we hear of someone else’s wrong doings we are quick to condemn them for it, and jump to conclusions about their motives. However, when we do the same thing, we always tend to find a reason to make it seem less drastic, or extremely required. For example, when it comes to the example of breaking the traffic signal, when we see others do it, we nod our heads disapprovingly or make a remark about their ignorance to the law, however, when we are in a race with time or forget to stop for the signal, it’s suddenly justified. We always associate our own wrongdoings with rhyme and reason, but refuse to reciprocate this when others have done the same. Humanity as a race, has trouble with providing the benefit of the doubt, and are always looking to pin the blame on someone or something, anything apart from themselves.
The act of “gossiping” is a derivative of the same, we are quick to circulate the actions of others, especially with those who fuel us, or share the same opinions. It is a known fact that humans have been gossiping since the beginning of our existence on the planet. We tend to not only discuss others wrongdoings, but additionally attribute plausible reasons for it as well. We bring the past into the present and see these as a means to predict the future, and therefore form judgements on certain people or things. Although it is natural, there is also a line that needs to be drawn. Just because a large population of people bend and tweak the laws to suit them, that does not make it right. In the example given above,the law simply states that the traffic signal cannot be broken, it does not consider the morality or the several possible reasons one might find to break it.
The reason that we self-justify is explained well by psychology with an idea called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is used to describe the feeling of mental discomfort that occurs when there are two contradicting beliefs. Due to this discomfort most people tend to want consistency and thus change their perception to minimize the discomfort. This theory was proposed by Leon Festinger, an American social psychologist. He believes that we have a need from within to ensure that we are consistent. From our beliefs to behaviours, he believes we need consistency. One of the main reasons for cognitive dissonance is being required to forcefully comply. This could be one of the reasons why we find the need to justify our own actions. When we are put in a situation where we are not comfortable or feeling dissonance we find consistency and go back to our feeling of “normal”. When we justify ourselves we decrease the dissonance that was caused by what we did. We can try to justify it by creating blind spots and have no opportunity for forgiveness. By justifying ourselves, we maintain a positive image of ourselves and increase our self-esteem. Although psychology has found a reason why we justify our own actions, there is no moral reason to do so.
In conclusion, there are several reasons that we can attribute to our wrong doings and actions in order to justify it, to ourselves and others. Psychology and science backs this up, however, there is also a line that needs to be drawn and made crystal clear. If we allow ourselves to justify our actions, in every scenario, then we can never better ourselves and learn from the past, instead of living in it.