A Lesson in Cognitive Dissonance…
Not long ago I had dinner with an acquaintance when suddenly mid-conversation my ears jumped like a rabbit off the table. As he finished rattling off a sentence emphatically explicating how something was all but over, he began the next sentence with something diametrically opposed to what he had just stated. I winced for a moment not believing what I had just heard, but no, indeed, I did hear what I had heard. Without any sense of the inherent contradiction stated, he went onto explain, as if nothing could be more normal, that nothing was amiss at all. It’s at that point that the words “cognitive dissonance” must have flashed with 1000 volts across my forehead, for I couldn’t exit them from my mind. When actions don’t align with values, the world has a way of turning red lights on within us!
Admittedly, I’m no psychologist, so when I arrived home that night I yanked the laptop out of its case and began to type the words “cognitive dissonance” and within seconds the following appeared: “The state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.” Ah ha! There it was in black and white! A crisp, clear definition of what I had just encountered hours before as the waiters cleared the last dishes from the table.
No doubt, everyone reading this has had similar encounters with friends and acquaintances, but this instance stood out to me. It wasn’t so much what was said, as it was with the airs in which it was touted. It came across as the most natural thing in the world and how could anyone think otherwise? The danger befalls when the most contradictory thing sounds like the most inherently correct thing. And heaven forbid anyone casts aspersions of getting in the way of said thing! The world does not always take kindly to the truth, especially in the world of make-believe.
In my further “postmortem” of said act, I duly came across the name of Professor Leon Festinger (1919-1989). It appears that the good professor wrote the seminal work on the subject, namely A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance published in June of 1957. I have not yet had the pleasure of indulging my eyes into this treatise on thinking gone ajar. Something tells me it’s more than worth spending a few lazy, hot days of summer upon it. How could one not? Especially when Festinger left us with the following unflagging statement: “A man with conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.”
So in this day and age where competence seemingly takes more of a backseat to contradiction and confrontation (see Competence: The Hallmark of Society’s Success…), we may wish to pay heed to those odd words “cognitive dissonance.” We may wish to seek within, to ensure that our actions align with our values. Lest we too, flabbergast a person or two at the dinner table.
And that my friends, was my lesson in cognitive dissonance…
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