Study notes for a favorite read this year, a book on cognitive dissonance theory (the rest of the title: But Not By Me) – something all of us will recognize once explained; applications to past and recent history (mostly omitted below); and more rewarding strategies. We live in a world that often seems chaotic and unordered, particularly when it comes to living and dealing with others; an insight like this helps us see order in the chaos, makes it appear less random, and empowers us to contemplate change.
There are two kinds of lies, one conscious, where the liar sees the lie for what it is, a deliberate distortion of truth; and the other, made noble through self-justification, so that the lie ceases to become one. The second kind is the result of cognitive dissonance: when someone holds two contradictory views – usually a self-concept, such as “I am a sensible, competent person”, vs a piece of new information, such as “I just spent a lot of time on something worthless and silly”. Because it hurts so much to change our view of ourselves, we resort to ego-preservation, and change the other view instead, and suddenly, the worthless and silly thing rises in our estimation – we justify it by distorting it in some way – actually, it was meaningful to me and I’m glad I did it. Dissonance theory predicts that we ask ourselves: is the new information consonant with my belief?