Identify the accused male subject of the following sentiments:
- Accused is not the same thing as guilty.
- I don’t like what he did but we need him in the Senate to represent our values.
- His accusers are being paid.
- It’s a set-up.
- I’m a victim and what happened to her wasn’t so bad.
- I blame her.
- Why come forward now, when it was so long ago?
If you guessed Al Franken, you’d be right. If you guessed Roy Moore, you’d also be right. It’s impossible to tell from these statements alone who is being defended from what.
Though we see ourselves as being very different from the other group–progressives from conservatives and vice versa–our psychology is actually pretty much the same. The same irrational thought processes are kicking in on all sides as we hunker down in our bunkers with those we share voting habits with.
What’s happening in the rationalizations above is that people are searching their brains for justifications to explain why they’re still supporting a person accused of behavior they would normally find abhorrent.
[Full disclosure: I find the accusations against Roy Moore to be much worse than the accusations against Al Franken. Specifically because of the 14-year-old girl. We all have our lines in the sand and that’s one of mine. The point is not to go case by case and grope by grope to find who’s the worst sexual violator. The point is to examine the underlying psychology behind why we rally behind our guys regardless.]
Here are some of the distortions that could lead an objective listener (someone from another planet, maybe) to conclude your thought patterns are making the kind of sense that’s not.
On losing Al in the Senate:
The Democrats have lost the only one of them who really took on Trump. This is a disaster for the Democrats. Now we’ll lose in 2018 for sure.
1. The Democrats have lost the only one of them who really took on Trump.
This is filtering, as in eliminating information that doesn’t support the severity of your feelings. There are many Democrats who have spoken out against and stood up to Trump.
2. This is a disaster for the Democrats.
Catastrophizing: This is the worst thing that could possibly have happened. This is also a conclusion meant to support how sad or angry you feel.
3. Now we’ll lose in 2018 for sure.
Fortune telling or future casting; there’s no way to actually know what will happen in the future.
What Roy Moore did was 38 years ago. I believe, if he did it, he has been forgiven by God so I should forgive him too. This man has more integrity than anyone else in Congress right now.
1. What Roy Moore did was 38 years ago.
Filtering and minimizing–you’re ignoring the other 8 allegations against him which extended into the 1990s.
2. I believe, if he did it, he has been forgiven by God so I should forgive him too.
Appeal to authority, in this case, a higher authority.
3. This man has more integrity than anyone else in Congress right now.
Magnification: exaggerating for effect–there are over 500 members of Congress and it would take some doing to analyze each one of them and compare their integrity to Moore’s.
Most of these cases of rationalization involve one common distortion: emotional reasoning. This is where we believe our emotions are the same as facts. We feel something strongly and therefore we distort facts to fit the truth of our feelings. Of course, this makes sensible discourse impossible–my feelings are more true than your feelings!
There are some things we can do to make this better. The first is to be honest with ourselves. Go back and check the facts and make sure you’re not distorting them in your mind in order to justify the fever pitch of your emotions.
The second strategy is to try and identify what you’re actually feeling. When you’re raging at the person on your Facebook feed who generally shares your values, stop and consider. Why is what this person saying making me so angry? You might hear a little voice saying, “Because I just can’t take any more losses.”
Anger is often covering for feelings of sadness and fear. It feels stronger to be filled with righteous fury than to accept vulnerable feelings of grief and despair.
Thirdly, go back to your core values and see if those are being represented in what you’re saying. Ask yourself if the behavior you’re defending would upset you if you found out the other group was doing it.
At the end of it all, we’re all only human. And you’re either working with human psychology, or it’s working against you.