Two people are debating online about something they’re passionate about. At first they stick to the issues, but after a while they become more heated. Their language turns sharper, their positions become more entrenched, and their exchange becomes an “I’m right, you’re wrong” battle of the wills. In just a short time it’s become an online fight where emotions are stronger than rationality, where insults, sometimes elegantly crafted, sometimes more base, are hurled by each side with abandon.
And afterwards, looking back on what happened, each person says – with complete sincerity – that what happened was the other individual’s fault.
The Mom Pledge Blog recently wrote about this phenomenon in its post Into the abyss, which talked about the example of two women pointing fingers at each other, both feeling victimized, and yet both apparently engaged in bullying behavior.
So where does this myopic thinking come from?
According to Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, it’s the result of having to deal with cognitive dissonance:
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 piece the mental armor of self-justification.
Self-justification is more powerful and more dangerous than the explicit lie. It allows people to convince themselves that what they did was the best thing they could have done. In fact, come to think of it, it was the right thing.
Self-justification not only minimizes our mistakes and bad decisions; it is also the reason that everyone can see a hypocrite in action except the hypocrite.
Next time you see something you disagree with online or find yourself criticized, stop and think about whether this is a fight worth getting into or whether, in this particular situation, a better option might be to step away.