Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What Happened

With raising my kids I find that they will frequently come to me and tattle on one another. Sometimes these little information sessions start of with the attitude of "I was just sitting in my room, alone, minding my own business when so-and-so just came up and smacked me on the head with a stick." In those situations I rarely take the comments at face value and look for a deeper cause to the problem described. Every now and then I get a more honest and apologetic form of tattling. "Dad, so-and-so and I were sword fighting and I accidentally hit him a little harder than I meant to. I tried to apologize, but he just whacked me over the head with a stick." Granted this still may not be the whole truth but it's likely a whole lot closer to the truth than the "minding my own business" line. So I tend to be more sympathetic when I get a response that acknowledges at least some complicity in the problem than when they just seem to get defensive.

Earlier this week I started reading What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception by former Press Secretary Scott McClellan. I was prepared to have McClellan start off with the attitude of "there I was, in the White House, minding my own business..." If that had been the case I would likely not have continued reading past the preface. But that's not what happened. McClellan started of with the apology. He acknowledge that he was either indirectly or directly complicit in many of the criticisms that he was preparing to detail. Rather than simply attack his former boss as the bad guy, on the contrary he still paints the President as a good man who just got hung up in the culture of Washington. Rather than change Washington as he had promised in his campaign the whole administration just went about playing the game the way everybody else in the beltway was playing it. McClellan's cathartic, honest approach has me really studying this book that I honestly had not intended to give more than a cursory scan.

Last year I read a couple books that detailed the steps that people will take to isolate themselves from the decisions that they make. Mistakes Were Made But Not by Me and the Lucifer Effect both described how we use cognitive dissonance to convince ourselves that what we did was right. I'm only in the first couple chapters of McClellan's book and I'm already noticing some startling similarities between the behaviors of the detailed by McClellan and the examples in these other books. I don't believe that the Bush administration intended to do anything unethical. I just think that their "ends justifies the means" strategies got out of hand. When we start to excuse flaws in our own behavior what we wouldn't accept from others we leave the moral high ground and start walking along the steeper slopes of unethical and immoral behavior.

1 comment:

  1. I look forward to reading this one, too!