Let's begin with a few definitions...
Cognitive dissonance: The discomfort caused by the awareness of holding two or more contradictory ideas.
Cultural dissonance: The discomfort experienced by people in the midst of changing cultural dynamics; most often characterized by changes which are unexpected, unexplained or not understood.
I think that one of the most important aspects of cognitive dissonance is that one needs to have an awareness of discomfort before one can identify those thoughts which are being held in tension. Self-awareness is an experience that is often sought out as we age. We grow in understanding ourselves different and separate from those around us; we seek to inventory those things which we hold that are truly of us and those things we have embraced as default.
In the process of this often we come across contradictory ideas, thoughts or values. We are then faced with a choice... ...can both be held onto at the same time... ...if not then which value do we go with and why.
But here is the aspect that I wish to mull over. What happens if in the process of self-examination and increasing self-awareness I decide to embrace a value that is not held or endorsed by the dominant culture in which I find myself? I do not spare myself discomfiture. The attempts to ease the unease of finding myself in the throes of cognitive dissonance I am thrust into a dissonance of another variety.
Leaving and coming back home has opened my eyes to cultural 'concerns' about my hometown. I think that is likely a very 'normal' experience. But as I wandered through my time back I realized that I was not at ease at home. As I explore the reasons for my dis-ease; I find myself having shed some of the normalcy of home for another normal. And I don't want to give up what I have received... ...as I weigh out the values I hold, I find more reasons to hold on to that which I experience as more real. But that reality is uncomfortable and darker than expected.
I came to this as I watched a documentary this week. Cognitive dissonance came up... ...those who have heard the truth yet do nothing with it... ...those who believe the truth yet do nothing with it... That's most people when they count the cost of change and decide it's too much to pay with no guarantee that the reward will make it worth it; besides they will tell themselves no one else is moving towards change. One insightful commentator said that we are living in make-belief.
Actually, I believe that many of us know that we are living in make-belief. And that is what leads to the very normal condition of the human mind to live in cognitive dissonance. At the same time we want to avoid the pain of the dissonance so we increase the pretense making excuses for the reasons why we can wait or why what we know isn't as serious as it is... This phenomena is evident in many arenas of life often resulting from a simplistic view of the issue in question. A simplistic perspective, leads to a simplistic approach resulting in a potentially detrimental solution.
From a global perspective, our attitude towards caring for the world in which we live will likely begin with a measure of cognitive dissonance and then gently lead us into the depths of cultural dissonance. We all have a list as long as our arms for the reasons why we continue unabated with a lifestyle of consumption. We know that the natural resources that we extract from the earth are not being replenished. But we do not treat these resources as if they are finite. Take petrochemicals...they are all pervasive on a global scale. We know that oil is harvested and not being replenished. We know that whatever we take is being processed and burned and detrimentally affecting the health of ourselves, our children and our 'home'. But we continue.
... dissonance ...
So as I try to live more consciously I find myself trying to live as if what is true is really true. Then I become very aware of the luxury of a strawberry in the wintertime... ...a lawn in the summer... ...a dryer during the rainy season... ...a car any time... But I struggle to live accordingly. Should I not buy my children fresh fruit in the winter because the carbon footprint may eventually cause them more damage? Should I avoid olive oil because I know it is being transported to me emitting air and noise pollution every mile of the way? Should I avoid: rice, avocados, tuna, coffee, black teas, bananas, coconuts, black pepper, sea salt, seaweed... because they are not responsible choices once I begin to consider the impact of getting them to my table? According to one set of statistics the average that a food item travels before it lands on our table is 1500 miles. That is not acceptable. But,...
And this is where I become dissonant... I live in a climate where the ground is frozen for almost as many months as it is not frozen. I have growing children whose nutritional needs are important to their long-term well-being. And here is the one that is the most difficult to deal with... I can not always afford to purchase the locally grown, the organically grown, the responsibly packaged, the environmentally sustainable... So I live with disappointment and disapproval of my own decisions.
Who wants to hear that they shouldn't buy new clothes every season, they don't need a new "insert item of choice', smaller is better, less is more, if it's yellow let it mellow, your clothes were stitched by a child, your toilet paper is made of trees, your neighbor is everyone who is connected to you via your home, your clothes, your food, your pollution, your consumption...
In fact, sometimes my oldest child doesn't even want to hear it... she is aware of the dissonant sound. Sometimes I become overwhelmed trying to make a decision on a food purchase. Other times I simply harden myself against my own judgement.
But the challenging part is that we, as a family, are trying to move towards a lifestyle this is responsible, sustainable, healthful, justice centered, grace filled and love imbued; and so we oft find ourselves in the realm of the culturally dissonant. We need to find meaningful action... ...re-evaluate choices and priorities... ...plan for the future... because sometimes the loudest sound is a lone voice in a lonely place.
Labels: dissonance, family, food, money, priorities, stewardship