Cognitive Dissonance


Cognitive Dissonance - the task is to try to say the color the word is printed in, yet you find it's easier to say the word that's actually written.

That’s really just a fancy way of saying that what you know to be true isn’t matching up with your experience. Say, for instance, you grew up learning (and therefore know) that chocolate ice cream will kill anyone who eats it. But then, as an adult, you watch a 5-year-old eat a chocolate cone and she’s not dead in two minutes or two hours or two days.

What do you do with that?

In this case you would either change your mind about the fact that chocolate ice cream kills, or you add arsenic to the little girl’s cone. Somehow, you change something to make your understanding match your experience.

A blogging friend of mine wrote the other day about all the ways people work so hard just to keep up appearances. In the end, he said that doing so may make us more acceptable to others, but it denies us the ability to be true to who we really are. He was talking about his coming out journey, but I went a different way with it and it’s been nagging at me.

In response to his post, I wrote:

In the whole process of getting married I have had to come to terms with the fact that I really do, in fact, want a house with a dog and daughter and a wife. I want to do boring and normal things with that dog and daughter and wife and it’s hard for me, as a super-involved activist, to be okay with wanting that. I know from experience that when I am single and allowed to go in any direction I choose for as long as want I tend to flounder and over-commit and freak out, but admitting that I want to just be boring and normal is hard for me to accept.

It’s totally got to do with keeping up appearances. As a 20-something lesbian with an MA in Women’s Studies, I have been conditioned to not want the normal, boring American dream, so to find out that within that dream is when I’m at my best self is a little scary. Letting go of what others want for the sake of a united (lesbian? Women’s Studies? Activist?) front is a little scary, but I’m getting there slowly, I think.

It got me thinking about my own cognitive dissonance. Getting married, finding a house, adopting a daughter (maybe); these (I’ve been conditioned to understand) are things you do when you settle down and finally fall in line with the heteronormative patriarchy.

Yet I am at my best self when I’m in a stable relationship, working a steady job, practicing my activism within safe confines, growing some roots and living within some margins.

So what to do?

Luckily I’ve got friends and allies to help me see (or make) a third way, one that allows me to see that being in a committed relationship does not mean selling out. Rather, it allows me to participate more fully in my activist work because I’ve got Marianne supporting and standing next to me.

Now it’s just a matter of wrapping my brain around that concept. Understanding that settling down doesn’t mean losing any part of me but rather makes me better able to participate in my world. Undoing my own cognitive dissonance.


4 responses »

  1. Gosh, I’m so happy for you! How cool! I don’t really know you yet, but I had trouble seeing you leaving the activism completely. I’m so glad you’re not! It does sound like a perfect “marriage” of all that’s dear to you. 🙂

    • I’m slowly working it all out in my head. I think it’s also a confidence issue, not that I don’t think I can do things, but that I have a hard time believing others see something in me. Interesting how everything is becoming visible lately.

  2. Pingback: Not fitting the stereotype; What year is this anyway??; Early voting has begun « Poems, Prayers, Promises & Politics

  3. Pingback: Slacking off « Poems, Prayers, Promises & Politics

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