A particularly arresting example of self-justification and its effect on love from Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts, which will be familiar to those who’ve listened to the talks from the recent Bham conference:
At the age of sixty five, the feminist writer and activist Vivian Gornick wrote a dazzlingly honest essay about her lifelong efforts to balance work and love, and to lead a life based on exemplary egalitarian principles in both arenas. “I’d written often about living alone because I couldn’t figure out why I was living alone, “she wrote. For years, her answer, the answer of so many of her generation, was sexism: Patriarchal men were forcing strong, independent women to choose between their careers and their relationships. That answer isn’t wrong… But today Gornick realizes that it was not the full answer. Looking back, without the comfort of her familiar self-justifications, she was able to see her own role in determining the course of her relationships, realizing “that much of my loneliness was self-inflicted, having more to do with my angry, self-divided personality than with sexism.
“The reality was that I was alone not because of my politics but because I did not know how to live in a decent way with another human being. In the name of equality I tormented every man who’d ever loved me until he left me; I called them on everything, never let anything go, held them up to accountability in ways that wearied us both. There was, of course, more than a grain of truth in everything I said, but those grains, no matter how numerous, need not have become the sandpile that crushed the life out of love.” (p. 184)
Next installment of Justifying Our Lives Away coming soon!