Tuesday, 16 February 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.