Monday, January 11, 2010

Discerning the Discomfort of Dissonance

Early last year, I wrote several well-received blog posts on cognitive dissonance, the psychological stress all human beings experience when they are faced with information or experience that is inconsistent with previously understood information, expectation, or context. Sometimes, it just involves hearing things we don't expect or being asked to do something that doesn’t seem to make sense (e.g., like a doctor asking us to say “Aye” and “Eee” as he listens to our chest with a stethoscope if we do not know that they are not just acting silly but are ruling out a specific lung disorder).
Getting through the dissonance may involve the raising of our eyebrows, causing only a fleeting moment of confusion or distraction, something that a smile may bring us through safely. An extreme example might be the dissonance that my friend felt when his pastor told the congregation that everyone with faith needed to get out their checkbooks so they could write out a check for $1000, payable to the pastor personally and not to the church to boot. (This was a watershed moment for him after previous troubling problems produced several episodes of dissonance that gave him reasons to doubt.) Cognitive dissonance varies by degrees, and it can be used as a powerful manipulation technique. (Please read more in previous posts HERE.

Like the rest of the human race and as a natural consequence of living, I’ve experienced many different types of dissonance recently. (Note that dissonance indicates a healthy response, though how we respond in turn to the uncomfortable mental state often predisposes us to manipulation. Self-control starts with managing responses despite our discomfort.) In my own dissonance recently, I took note of my own experience, I observed the dissonance in others, and I recalled my own past memories of dissonance while reading someone else’s testimony of spiritual abuse. I also regularly observe varieties of dissonance in others when I receive feedback from readers who do feel comfortable with or dislike this blog’s specific content. (If you’re one of those folks, I’m writing a new post about all this, just for you.) I would like to write a series of posts over the next several weeks that further explore this topic.

Actually, my recent post about American Vision started out as what I planned as a simple post on the topic and quickly became two new posts. The post discussing Gary DeMar in particular touches on a more complicated example of my own cognitive dissonance because it involves the dynamic factors of personal growth, confirmation bias, and the learning curve as well as the outward and notable changes in a system over time. So, you may have already read at least one of these new posts about dissonance already. We are always growing and life is always changing, echoing a simple truth in the observation of Heraclitus that we “never step twice into the same river.” I believe that this offers us great hope (1 Cor 15:50-58, 2 Cor 3:18).

Insight into the process of manipulation can ultimately help us develop more self-control in difficult situations, and it can help us learn when to back off while trying to persuade friends to get out of manipulative relationships. Please note that I don’t ever aspire to produce some foolproof list, but I hope to give the reader here a broader perspective and something to think about in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 1:3-15! As a friend recently told me, what you read here may confirm the validity of what you’ve been through yourself, or as she puts it, it might help you “realize that you are not crazy.” [Well, at least not “crazy” crazy. ;) ]
Stay tuned.