Self justification is an interesting phenomenon. It’s basically about how we interpret our own actions and those of others. Where our own actions are concerned, we know the reasons why we do something and the context in which we do it, and therefore judge ourselves less harshly. Furthermore, none of us wants to think of ourselves as a bad person, and although we may be aware that what we ate doing is wrong, we explain this wrongness away with reasons which make our behaviour less culpable and therefore save us from the pain of having to think of ourselves as a bad person. (This is an example of cognitive dissonance, which we will go to almost any lengths to avoid.)

So, taking me, for instance, I know that when, as a pedestrian, I cross the road against the lights, that I have looked carefully, seen there is no traffic in the immediate vicinity, and decided that it’s safe for me to disregard the rules on this occasion. Disregarding the rules doesn’t make me a bad person, merely a person who endeavours to tailor my behaviour to my circumstances when it is reasonable and prudent to do so.

In the case of the cyclist, though, I wasn’t privy to her reasons for breaking the rules and was in no position to judge how reasonable or otherwise they were, and therefore how justified she was in behaving as she did. I’m sure she felt that she was perfectly justified, and having read some of the comments on earlier posts, she may well have had some very good reasons for not stopping. At the time, though, I didn’t know that and got furious with her for breaking the rules when SHE SHOULD HAVE KEPT TO THEM. And furthermore there was no reason for me not to think of her as a bad person, so I decided right away that she was a VERY BAD PERSON INDEED!!

So far, so more or less obvious. There’s an interesting twist, though, to self justification which explains why I got quite so angry. More on this tomorrow.