In sports as in child rearing, marital arguments, or tantrums, the same laws of learning apply; when an emotion is encouraged and the rules permit it, it is perpetuated, not 'drained.' ... An emotion without social rules of containment and expression is like an egg without a shell: a gooey mess ...
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To show how memory changes to fit our story, psychologists study how memories evolve over time: if your memories of the same people change, becoming positive or negative spending on what is happening in your life now, then it's all about you, not them. This process happens so gradually that it can be a jolt to realize you ever felt differently.
By far, the most important distortions and confabulations of memory are those that serve to justify and explain our own lives. The mind, sense-making organ that it is, does not interpret our experiences as if they were shattered shards of glass; it assembles them into a mosaic. From the distance of years, we see the mosaic's pattern. It seems tangible, unchangeable; we can't imagine how we could reconfigure those pieces into another design. But it is a result of years of telling our story, shaping it into a life narrative that is complete with heroes and villians, an account of how we came to be the way we are. Because that narrative is the way we understand the world and our place in it, it is bigger than the sum of its parts. If on part, one memory, is shown to be wrong, people have to reduce the resulting dissonance and even rethink the basic mental category: you mean Dad (Mom) wasn't such a bad (good) person after all? You mean Dad (Mom) was a complex human being? The life narrative may be fundamentally true; Your father or mother might really have been hateful, or saintly. The problem is that when the narrative becomes a major source of self-justification, one the storyteller relies on to excuse mistakes and failings, memory becomes warped in its service. The storyteller remembers only the confirming examples of the parent's malevolence and forgets the dissonant instances of the parent's good qualities. Over time, as the story hardens, it becomes more difficult to see the whole parent - the mixture of good and bad, strengths and flaws, good intentions and unfortunate blunders. Memories create our stories, but our stories also create our memories.
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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 pierce the mental armor of self-justification. When we began working on this book, the poster boy for "tenacious clinging to a discredited belief" was George W. Bush. Bush was wrong in his claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, he was wrong in claiming that Saddam was linked with Al Qaeda, he was wrong in predicting that Iraqis would be dancing joyfully in the streets to receive the American soldiers, he was wrong in predicting that the conflict would be over quickly, he was wrong in his gross underestimate of the financial cost of the war, and he was most famously wrong in his photo-op speech six weeks after the invasion began, when he announced (under a banner reading MISSION ACCOMPLISHED) that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended.
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Rebels and dissidents challenge the complacent belief in a just world, and, as the theory would predict, they are usually denigrated for their efforts. While they are alive, they may be called 'cantankerous,' 'crazy,' 'hysterical,' 'uppity,' or 'duped.' Dead, some of them become saints and heroes, the sterling characters of history. It's a matter of proportion. One angry rebel is crazy, three is a conspiracy, 50 is a movement.
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When anger is not trampling roughshod through our nervous system, it is sitting sullenly in some unspecified internal organ. "She's got a lot of anger in her," people will say (it nestles, presumably, somewhere in the gut), or, "He's a deeply angry man" (as opposed, presumably, to a superficially angry one). If anger isn't released, it "turns inward" and metamorphoses into another creature altogether.
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The difference between the Japanese and the American is summed up in their opposite reactions to the proverb (popular in both nations), "A rolling stone gathers no moss." Epidemiologist S. Leonard Syme observes that to the Japanese, moss is exquisite and valued; a stone is enhanced by moss; hence a person who keeps moving and changing never acquires the beauty and benefits of stability. To Americans, the proverb is an admonition to keep rolling, to keep from being covered with clinging attachments.
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The scientific method is designed to help investigators overcome the most entrenched human cognitive habit: the confirmation bias, the tendency to notice and remember evidence that confirms our beliefs or decisions, and to ignore, dismiss, or forget evidence that is discrepant. That's why we are all inclined to stick to a hypothesis we believe in. Science is one way of forcing us, kicking and screaming if necessary, to modify our views.
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Of course, if you photograph the behavior of women and men at a particular time in history, in a particular situation, you will capture differences. But the error lies in inferring that a snapshot is a lasting picture. What women and men do at a moment in time tells us nothing about what women and men are in some unvarying sense - or about what they can be.