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2017 Common Read: “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)”

The University of Idaho has chosen Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson as its Common Read for 2017-2018.

“The students and faculty members on our Common Read committee loved the premise of this book and its lessons about our individual and collective behavior,” said Kenton Bird, UI’s director of General Education, which sponsors the Common Read. Tavris will deliver a keynote address, part of the Runstad Lecture series, at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, in the International Ballroom of the Bruce Pitman Center.

In her presentation, Tavris will describe the cognitive biases that lead most people to justify beliefs that are outdated, decisions that have proved to be misguided and the harms we inflict on others. “It’s good to be able to justify our mistakes so that we can sleep at night,” Tavris said, “but sometimes, if we want to improve our lives and relationships, a few sleepless nights are called for.”

The book, first published in 2007 and revised for a second edition in 2015, remains highly relevant in 2017, Tavris explained. “In today’s polarized climate, where most of us live in identity bubbles that block our vision of other points of view, it’s more important than ever to understand why this happens — and how we can change.”

Mistakes Were Made was nominated by Russell Romney, a UI senior with majors in economics and mathematics and a member of the Common Read committee. “I like this book because it can educate students about how much cognitive dissonance affects their lives, and uses specific, well-known examples to do so,” Romney said.

“We human beings like to call ourselves the ‘rational animal,’ but really we are the rationalizing animal,” Tavris said. “Why don’t more people say, ‘Why, thank you for this important new information that will benefit me, my children, my coworkers, my country, our democracy, and my planet!’ — and instead ignore, deny and reject that information? What blocks all of us from even being aware that we are wrong and might need to change?”

The Common Read is designed to engage the university and Moscow community, its students, staff, faculty and community members in a unified intellectual activity, Bird said. It introduces first-year students to academic expectations, respectful discourse and community building, he explained.

First-year students will be assigned to read the book as part of their Integrated Seminar (ISEM) 101 course, part of UI’s innovative General Education program. ISEM instructors introduce students to methods of inquiry in the humanities and social sciences through more than two dozen topics.

The Common Read is supported by the Judith Runstad lecture series, which annually sponsors a keynote address by the book’s author or someone closely associated with the book. Recent Runstad lecturers include Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See, in 2015 and Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus, in 2016.

Book Cover: Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)
Cover: Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)
Carol Tavris
Carol Tavris


The Common Read is a program designed to engage the university and Moscow community, its students, staff, faculty and community members, in a unified intellectual activity. For first-year students it introduces them to academic expectations, respectful discourse, and community building. The Common Read is supported by the Judith M. Runstad Lecture Series, which sponsors a keynote address by the author of the Common Read, or someone closely associated with the book. First-year students will be asked to read the book as part of their ISEM 101 Integrated Seminar requirements. The Common Read book is available through the UI VandalStore - Bookstore.

This is a program sponsored through the General Education program, supported by the Office of Student Affairs, and a host of faculty, staff and student members on the Common Read Committee.

General Education

Physical Address:
347C Administration Building

Mailing Address:
College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS 3154
Moscow, ID 83844-3154