What About This? By Wayne William Cipriano

I’m going to have to try to embrace another psychological theory besides Cognitive Dissonance to explain some of the behavior I exhibit and I see around me. I’m tired of saying Cognitive Dissonance and I’m tired of others not understanding what I am trying to communicate. To address one of these problems, here’s what I mean by Cognitive Dissonance in a nut shell:

Cognitive Dissonance for me is simply believing in someone or something so completely that when evidence, very credible evidence, is produced that “proves” that which I believe about someone or something is false, I not only disbelieve and/or ignore that very credible evidence, and often disparage the source, but I then believe in that someone or something even more strongly than I did before I encountered that evidence: That’s Cognitive Dissonance.

We see Cognitive Dissonance all the time, don’t we? It is often dismissed as stubbornness or stupidity, but many of us think it is neither by itself.

Stubbornness would show in every other aspect of our lives, and that is very often not the case. Sure, each of us is a little stubborn, we pretty much have to be, but usually when we learn new stuff we change our behavior in light of that new learning – if that were not the case, advertising would not be such a financially rewarding activity would it? In fact, if we don’t change in the face of new learning, bad stuff can happen to us and can happen at a greater rate after we’ve been “warned.”

Stupidity, its real meaning, is when we are not affected by the environment around us. We are stupid when we just don’t notice, and so cannot profit from, that which is going on around us. Stupid seems to have become a synonym for foolish, or unintellectual, or wasteful of our personal resources, etc. But its original meaning is just not attending to what life is doing to and for and with us.

If you want to make an argument, and I am always up for that, by suggesting Cognitive Dissonance is a product of an interplay of Stubborn and Stupid, I would understand your position. I would respond, however, by positing that Stubborn and Stupid leave out an important component of Cognitive Dissonance: self-esteem, or self-protection, or ego-maintenance, or some other phrase that explains how important our most deeply held beliefs are to our sense of ourselves. 

I think the pairing of those beliefs with our sense of self becomes so intertwined that damage to that belief causes damage to our self, that our identity is damaged when our deeply held beliefs are questioned and our sense of correctness, our importance, our value is to some significant degree dependent on and combined with the belief under attack.

Just as it is difficult to merely ignore when we are under an attack, or pretend that such an attack does not affect us, it is difficult to refrain from responding to an attack. And a response we often see, as passive and incorrect as others may characterize it, is a renewed belief, a new, stronger adherence to our position now being threatened with credible, contrary evidence.

By the way, when you are writing something like this, which for me, takes a lot of thought and self-examination, it is particularly difficult to stay on topic and not have your thoughts diverted when someone as fetching as Rosalie places a fresh-from-the-oven coffeecake on your desk and says most sweetly with a huge smile on her face, “Go ahead and finish your article and then you can have some of this – here’s a cup of coffee to go with it.” 

So, that’s it. I’m done.