The human is always able to find a way to rationalize its actions.  Most often without any awareness that we are doing it.

We can usually find  a way to make ourselves comfortable with our choices and actions.  We don’t like unpleasant feelings about ourselves, so we find good reasons that we are doing something necessary or good when we say or do things that contradict our beliefs.

We enjoy pointing out when other people are being hypocritical in some way or another, but the reality is that every person on the planet is doing something, or has done something in the last day or less that is contradictory to something they have previously stated or believed.  We ALL do it.

  • We criticize Betty for being judgemental, all the while being judgemental about Betty.
  • We claim to be kind but are willing to insult George because we don’t like him.
  • We give money to the poor, but only if they aren’t on the street begging because those people are scammers.

We do lots of things that aren’t who we say we are. We believe things but don’t act that way in reality.  But it’s OK.  Because there is always a way to justify it.

Our monkey brains make one reason remove the contradiction.  If I have a reason, it’s OK that I’m doing this thing I claim is not the sort of thing I do.  It’s OK to be mean to George because I don’t think George is nice.  I don’t like him.  That means that I get to still think of myself as Kind, even if I’m mean to George.

That is the magic of rationalization.

But the weird thing is that this magic only works inside of ourselves.  Other people don’t see the magic happen.  So if I’m mean to George, people will think I’m mean and if I claim to a kind person, they will call it hypocrisy when they remember the George incident.  That magic reasoning that I only worked on me, not on them.

Sadly we think it works on them.  We think everyone can see it all as clearly as we can.  George deserved it, so I’m still a kind person.  And I’m very hurt when people start accusing me of being cruel to George.  Because I used the magic rationalization it has never occurred to me that those things I said to George were not consistent with calling myself kind.

It takes a bit of introspection to really look at how we are tricking ourselves into thinking we are something that we really may not be.  It’s a very uncomfortable thing to do, to search inside yourself and scratch aside our the illusions of yourself.  But if we want to have a certain self integrity I think it’s a worthwhile endeavour.

It can also be a bit obsessive and become non-productive.  I have discovered that there are rabbit holes of rationalization.  I can rationalize the rationalizing.

It helps if you already have decided who you want to be.  And then you look.  Because if  you don’t know who you want to be, then there is no point in looking at all, is there?

8 thoughts on “Rationalization

  1. Excellent post. I would add that each of us fill we achieve more through our own merit, while others are luckier when they have success. As a retired HR person and manager of people, it is a truism that everyone thinks they are above average, which is not statistically supported.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Indeed, the illusory superiority of the Dunning–Kruger effect is hidden from us. When I first learned of it, I became severely paranoid about it. And then found myself rationalizing my own strengths and biases. Dunning Kruger is hard to self diagnose. Our brains are NOT well wired – even in the smartest among us.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Your wonderful commentary came shortly before I read a news item that Tim Cook of Apple was going to be hosting a fund raiser for Paul Ryan and other GOP politicians. Talk about rationalization — dear lord. One wonders at how Mr. Cook, who is openly gay, can rationalize supporting a party whose most prominent members like Cruz openly seek support from religious organizations that openly call for executing homosexuals, manages to rationalize his actions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had a gay friend who was a republican. Because that how he was raised and so despite having little or nothing in common with them except the idea of them being better for Business he continued to think of himself as Republican. I found it mind boggling.

      I think Politics are a classic example of this, but to be fair, the way the system works you have to Rationalize. Because its very unlikely you will agree with everything your party says and does. But still – if your party’s platform includes ways and means of hating the person you are….


  3. So painfully true. As an HR person in my working life I had the “pleasure” of pointing out to people why they were so disliked. They were always astounded. I always thought most people know who they are but some are so good at rationalization that everything is distorted. Personally I struggle with this. Yes I am a kind person except to people I don’t like. Hmmm….how can I make this work for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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