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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance

by Gavin from The Greening of Gavin.

Back in September last year, I wrote a post about this subject.  It around this time in my journey that I felt a little burnt out from all the environmental and sustainable living activities I had been undertaking and were continuing to volunteer for.  I had been doing all of this work in the community, with little outcome to visibly show for it and was beginning to feel that I was the only person, besides a few friends that I knew, that actually cared about any of the big issues that were facing us.  I was totally wrong of course, because when I attended the yearly Walk Against Warming in my city three months later, over 40,000 like-minded people joined in to show support.  My spirits were also buoyed by the overwhelming and global uproar that the Copenhagen COP15 conference caused, even though the outcome was not the best for the planet.

Looking back, this term aptly described my state of mind about other peoples actions that I saw everyday when I was at a low, and how I felt just before my own green epiphany;

Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. The "ideas" or "cognitions" in question may include attitudes and beliefs, the awareness of one's behaviour, and facts. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours, or by justifying or rationalising their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours.

So my two contradictory ideas that I held simultaneously in my head, that were causing me an uncomfortable feeling;
A.  That we are on the cusp of a global emergency, with a changing climate, resource depletion, overpopulation, and the end of cheap oil, and obversely,

B.  Everywhere I look around me, everyone was going on about their business as if there was nothing wrong and everything is smelling like roses.  Even the global recession was over, so many commentators said (which I didn't believe for a second and I was right about).
Was it just me with this battle going on in my brain?  Some days I felt like my head was going to explode, because everything I believed to be true about these issues constantly manifested themselves in events I could see around me and read about everyday.

That was last year, so I don't think this way any more, well not as often as I did.  I have come to realise that cognitive dissonance is the first stage of awareness about an issue, and although it is very confusing for a while, you suddenly realise that these massive issues are not all full of doom and gloom, but are filled with hope and opportunity.  I now accept that everyone are at different stages of understanding, and that those of us who have a better understanding of these issues better can assist others in seeing the bigger picture. Some won't accept what you are telling them, but the majority will take it as food for thought and research further.

Thinking of the worst case scenario only paralyses people (and yourself) with fear, and you fail to act.  By describing a message of hope and a better life without loss of lifestyle, it is an easier way to engage others and keep them interested in the simple changes you have made yourself.  It took me a while to figure this out, but hey, I have always been one to learn from my mistakes (eventually). 

I have found that when I talk about my lifestyle at work in a positive way, I get far more interest than if I had started telling people about the big issues that face us.  It is in this manner that I have influenced the most people without them even realising it.  They are motivate and happy as they change to a simpler way of living.  Gardening always seems to be the easiest subject to talk about, and then I supplement the conversation with how I prepared the harvest, what I cooked, and how I preserved the surplus.  It brings a smile to my face when my work collegues tell me how their veggie patch is thriving and growing, and then they ask for more tips to save money and simple changes they can make.  It is great fun to share experiences other than just those at work, and bringing in home made cheese to sample always helps stir up interest!

So, take hope if you are feeling cognitive dissonance right now, as it will pass as you learn more.  I suggest that you don't ignore it, but act upon it.  Seek out others who can help you understand the issues in a realistic way, and can explain to you why simple living has so many other benefits other than saving you money.  Take my fellow writers and all of our readers on the Simple, Green, Frugal Co-op for instance.  I have never had such pleasure in sharing thoughts, ideas, and experiences with such a wonderful group of people.  The simple fact that this blog is visited by thousands of people each day gives me the biggest boost of hope that we are providing a valuable service to the global community.  Simple, positive actions break down cognitive dissonance quickly and then you know that you are heading in the right direction, this feeling disappears and fades away. 

Have you ever had environmental cognitive dissonance, and how did you react to the opposing thoughts or ideas?  We would love to hear your experiences via a comment.


Julie said...

I guess I suffer from "Cognitive Dissonance" as I think I have attained the nickname "Cassandra" with my family. I need to learn to shut up when socializing with the business as usual types.

Damn The Broccoli said...

It's so easy to feel like this. I think it does get us all from time to time. There are certainly times when I feel m'Lady and I are the only ones out to save the world.

But then I get to blogger and see the global community out there feeling the same way and see that although there may not be enough of us, there are enough to make me think the fight is the good one.

I know whatever happens, I will be able to stand there and say well at least I did something.

So here's to everyone who is trying to do something regardless of whether they are part of the community or unaware. Keep at it.

Mia @ agoodhuman said...

I've been having one of 'those' weeks, where I look around me and can't believe that everything remains BAU (Business As Usual). But there is hope. People are now talking to me in the office about things that were on the fringe just two years ago. Many family and friends have started to grow some of their own food, and are making debt reduction a priority. I see movement in the right direction and if we keep talking positively about how much we enjoy our new lifestyles, I will continue to catch on.

simple in france said...

Another great post! For a long time I simply felt the dissonance without ever mentioning it to anyone. I think that for me, honesty about what I think is likely to occur and how I feel about it was an incredibly important step--but it doesn't mean I rant, tear my clothes, cry or scare people. Like you, I try not to dwell so much on 'aint it awful?' as 'what are we going to do now?' and 'Ooooh, try this, it looks like fun!'

And I find it's more inspiring to others to act, enjoy what you're doing and explain it from time to time than to try to convince them that life as we know it is coming to an end!

As for the other folks out there . . .I don't pretend to know what they're thinking unless I know them personally. People can hide all kinds of inner concerns and complexities and you never know when we might reach a tipping point and get large numbers of people thinking and acting on this topic.

Terry said...

I had no idea the way I often feel could be put in actual words. So many times I feel that what is the use of doing things I do to be simple. Being simple is hard work! Harder than doing business as usual. And often can make a person striving to be this way look like some sort of freak to others. It is hard to help others see the way, but in very small ways, from time to time, I see that I actually make a very small influence indeed, and that makes me happy.

Anonymous said...

Yup - he's my husband! Not interested one bit in what I'm concerned about, but is enjoying the meals I'm making with our locally-sourced food.


anastasia_wolf said...

Absolutely. For me it was living in a relationship where my partner didn't share my sense of urgency; he is one of those people who believes in the technological fix. For the sake of peace in the household I did what *I* could, which wasn't really enough, but stopped short from implementing real change. So while a compost bin was ok, turning the switches off at night was Hard Work. While I was tolerated in my spending lots of money on vege gardens, I wasn't supported in my desire to buy secondhand items as much as possible.

So anyway he left and now I'm able to start living congruently with my beliefs. Right now, as I'm implementing a LOT of changes, I do feel a lot of dissonance just in the fact that it seems humanity is just blinding running towards disaster, however I'm feeling less dissonance in myself.

Anonymous said...

Yes, me too Cath! A husband that's not the least interested in my environmentally mindedness. And I was depressed with Cognitive Dissonance, when we moved and all the green iniatives I've worked towards for the past few years don't work in this residence! I try to be frugal and he's a rev-head who owns 3 cars and wants more. Yes opposing beliefs!!!

Anonymous said...

Have you thought about joining a green group, that lobbies the government? Perhaps you will feel like you are achieving more than working at a "grass roots" level? The grass roots stuff is important, but only really makes a difference if everone is doing it... and the only way to get everyone to do it is to make the government enforce it...
I used to work in one of these such groups and they are always looking for people passionate about the cause... it is hard, tiring work, but you have the potential to do much more that way!
Just a thought for you :D

Chookie said...

Well, I'm a Christian as well as an environut (or whatever they call us these days), so I'm used to being considered a bit odd. I often think of my Grandma's saying: "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar". I also think it's important to be charitable. In many parts of Australia (including swathes of Western Sydney), you don't have much choice about transport, for example -- it's car or nothing. And if you've bought in one of those places, you are stuck with a car unless you move. Fortunately, I don't mix with yuppies much -- or it would be much harder to be charitable!

Hathor's Bath said...

I get this a fair bit, mostly from ex who should know better, as he's Captain High IQ and I'm just "emotional". That things may not get That Bad doesn't mean you don't at least try to make some changes, and for years he didn't want to hear it. Of course, it took another (younger!) girlfriend that he was trying to impress at the time for him to at least start listening to such arguments, and while he still seems to enjoy debating at me about How Offbase I Am (knowing full well how I loathe debate), now that he's hanging out with a bunch of druids, he's not so quick to scoff at the dangerous of the Head-First-And-It's-All-Right urban lifestyle. I do the best I can. If anything I'm just painfully aware that it's not going to be enough; what will all us folks who rent do when the bottom falls out of the economy? Gone are the days I can live in a tent comfortably...

maggie said...

I guess I think of this in relation to perspective. Sometimes just a nudge one way or the other opens up a whole new view of things.

Chris said...

It's great to hear you're gelling with your work colleagues in such a productive manner. It sounds positive and above all else, respectful of each person's level of compliance.

If we remember our school years, it wasn't easy being told to do things only one way. Of course that one way was the only way you could do it (ie: 1 + 1 can only equal 2) but not everyone processed the method of learning the same way.

As a result, many kids tuned out and forgot much of what they learned at school, when they were free to do their own things.

My husband and I were both kids who tuned out at school, but enjoy finding our own paths to understanding. I have to applaud my husband though, who was a big food junkie and consumer who knew no limits.

He thought I was mad, emotional and "different" when I first suggested new ways of living. Ever so gradually though, he now sees how other people were once like him. Just realising you have a choice to make better decisions, is the biggest hurtle.

After that, people will slowly progress at their own level of participation.

Anyway, it's good to hear you're sharing the love of the planet around at work, and doing it in a way that rewards you with contentment.

Gavin said...

Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments.

Being a man myself, I know exactly how stubborn and self centred we can be, however please don't tar us all with the same brush. Like me, there are quite a few good ones out there that are trying to do their bit to save what we have left. If some of them would just drop their macho attitude we might just start getting somewhere!


Hathor's Bath said...

I don't think anyone made any generalisations about men, Gavin, we merely gave our experiences as women means that we've really had to fight headlong with our partners, who really just don't want to hear what we have to say, which is probably the most difficult part of this dissonance. The last person one would want to have to convince would be one's partner, yet that is part of the issue in a lot of cases. It's unfortunate, but it does make me think that perhaps if men such as yourself did go out there and talk to the lads more, men might be more willing to listen - for whatever reason, listening to one's partner seems to be the last (or never!) recourse.

Gavin said...

Yes Hathor, you are right now that I have reread the comments. Sort if I sounded harsh.

Your partner should be the first one to support you in whatever you choose to change, however even my wife Kim thought I was crazy for the first month until I could get a copy of the inconvenient truth. No amount of me trying to explain would get her on side until she saw for herself.

Now she is my #1 fan!


Chris said...

Being a woman, I know how stubborn I can be too, LOL.

If we didn't laugh about it, I'm sure we'd cry. ;)

Somehow we all find our way though and get to where we want to be. :)

Amanda said...

This is a great post and a very good term- Cognitive dissonance. I pray, I send love to everyone and I am taking this as an opportunity to experience great acceptance of others within myself. And I suppose acceptance of myself and all of my shortcomings as well. I always enjoy hearing what you have to say!