I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the notion of cognitive dissonance, which is that melty brain feeling you get when you try and hold two opposing ideas in your head at the same time. The example that is often bandied about is smoking cigarettes, we know they are extremely bad for us and yet people keep on doing it. There are a number of ways that human beings cope with this phenomenon, the first is to drop one of the ideas, in this case is would be to discount the weight of scientific proof telling you that cigarettes are bad for you and write it all off as so much scaremongering or to listen to that evidence and throw your cigarettes in the dustbin. Then there is the third option where we invent an explanation that deals with the problem in some other way like, “well, something is going to kill you.”, “my auntie Ethel smoked thirty a day and lived til she was 100” or “I don’t want to get old and senile anyway!” There is always some way that people will cognatively reframe something if they want to keep doing something that they know deep down is bad for them. It’s easier to believe anything, no matter how bizarre or how convoluted than it is to try and hold two opposing thoughts in our heads. We are all guilty of it to a certain extent, we know something to be true and all the evidence points to it and yet we refuse to face it, sometimes we don’t want to rock the boat, sometimes through fear of change, sometimes the consequences that the truth might stir up, sometimes out of sentimentality and sometimes out of love.
The lengths some people go to to not deal with a truth can be astounding, from people who ignore the abuse of their own children to hold on to a partner or parents who cover up the crimes of their children out of misplaced love. One way of rationalising a decision that causes cognitive dissonance is to normalise the problem thought by finding others who hold the same abnormal idea. From paedophile rings, hate groups to extremist political or religious groups, it’s easier to hold an idea of a bizarre nature when someone else is telling you that it’s ok. Sadly, in many cases it is an easier option than to sort your life out.
One of the most common ways of managing cognitive dissonance is to constantly defer choosing what thought to go with ad infinitum as many smokers do. They will give up tomorrow, a tomorrow that never comes, it works for other things too but as we stretch out that process and avoid making that decision we often find it gets made for us. Options close down, things blow up in our face, the consequences of decisions not made catch up with us and make themselves known in the most unpleasant of ways. Although in most cases those consequences are never that dire, suffering daily from the weight of all that brain noise is a harsh enough punishment on its own.
Oh! And there was a metal band with that name, they were rubbish!