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An Sad Case Of Cognitive Dissonance

June 27, 2022

I like to discuss politics.

Not argue. . .discuss.

And discussions are most interesting when they have two sides. If you are discussing something politics with someone you agree with, it’s a serious of “Yeah, me too” statements.

But, if you can find someone who disagrees completely with you, but is willing to hold a civil discussion, you can learn new perspectives and clarify your own position.

But, it’s difficult to find someone who disagrees, makes a cogent argument and doesn’t get angry.

Bobby was one of those people. Bobby and I met on someone else’s page. Bobby is very liberal. I’m pretty conservative. But, Bobby wasn’t an ideologue. He was willing to approach sensitive subjects with an open mind. Occasionally, other people would get angry with my comments. Bobby assured them that I was a good guy. Just sort of misguided by my right wing philosophy.

I suspect that Bobby considered himself a better person than me. More tolerant. More intelligent.

Bobby blocked me on Facebook last week.

It wasn’t something offensive I said. It wasn’t any sort of rant. I was surprised. And then I remembered a conversation we’d had two days earlier. Bobby blocked me because he could not remain facebook friends with me and maintain his world view. He experienced terrible cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance

– the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.

Bobby thought that I was a racist. I know this because he told me. It wasn’t in an accusatory manner. In fact, he said I was probably a “covert racist.” In other words, I was racist, but I just didn’t know it.

As I said, Bobby and I were able to discuss controversial subjects without gettting emotional. I certainly wasn’t offended. In fact, I pressed him for examples of things I had said that gave him the impression I was racist.

He couldn’t find anything other than the generic “your philosophy.” In other words, “All Republicans are racists. . .you’re a Republican. . .Q.E.D.”

I acknowledged that there was really nothing I could say to prove I wasn’t a racist. If I say, “I’m not racist” well, that’s the same thing a covert racist might say and actually believe it.

I had to leave our conversation and head off to work. I posted two family pictures before I left.

This is a picture of my daughter. She’s a member of the royalty for my town’s summer festival. (That’s my grandson and her nephew who won a ‘cutest baby’ contest.)

This is a recent family picture. Not all my kids are in this, but a bunch of them are.

Bobby had the good sense to drop the “I think you are a racist” discussion. I thought it was over. But, I realized that Bobby had a problem. And it was a problem that required a solution.

Cognitive Dissonance is when your beliefs don’t match reality. And what we’ve found is that when your worldview conflicts with reality, you do NOT change your world view. Instead you “change reality.” You dismiss inconvenient facts. You discount other’s experience.

Bobby believed that Republican were racists. And these pictures seemed to clearly prove that I was not. But, he knew I was a Republican. So, what to do?

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”

– The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Bobby couldn’t change his worldview. Republicans are racists. It’s a truth in his world. Therefore the only choice he had was to change the facts. And that meant blocking me. Now he doesn’t have to consider whether Republicans might not be racists.

I was disappointed. Bobby was a fun guy to talk to. And he was polite and offered well thought out arguments.

In hindsight I think I might have let him persist in his delusion about Republican racists if it would let us stay connected.

It’s difficult to find a good debate partner.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Order Miscellany II, an anthology including his latest short story, “The Mercy System” here

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