Cognitive Dissonance and the 2016 Presidential Election

Gandhi quote

The presidential race is getting to me. I’m experiencing some serious cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs when a person simultaneously holds two cognitions, thoughts or beliefs that are psychologically inconsistent with a person’s behavior. I find myself in a “state of tension” as a result of the inner conflict of my thoughts and actions in face of the issues surrounding the presidential election. I’ve been trying to be a peaceful warrior in ways that come easily to me: I’ve consciously tried to look strangers in the eye and say hello, I’ve listened more compassionately and spoken up about my beliefs in conversations rather than staying silent. I’ve tried to educate myself about  current issues so I can speak from a place of knowledge rather than reactive emotion. But it’s not enough.

Here’s the hitch: along with reading the news, facebook posts and comments that align with my beliefs; I’m also reading those that don’t. It’s a double whammy: I get punched in the gut with the nastiness of my fellow humans and with the realiztion that  by allowing the media to “walk through my mind with their dirty feet” I am a participant.

According to cognitive dissonce theory, developed by the social psychologist Leon Festinger (Festinger, 1957), dissonance will be resolved in one of three basic ways:

  1. Change beliefs
  2. Change actions
  3. Change perception of action.

From my deepest heart I know that the hatred, racism, sexism, divisiveness and just plain meanness pervading the news and our culture is wrong. I’ve taught my children to treat others with respect and kindness- the good old Golden Rule. I believe with equal conviction that it’s not enough to just think it, you have to live it. Changing my beliefs is not going to happen, nor can I rationalize compromising my values by remaining silent. I am compelled to change my actions.

The dilemma becomes, “How does one take action yet not participate in the vitriolic arguing?” I don’t know the answer but I have to try. I believe that there is value in sincere effort to change and am hopeful that if everyone tries to do better, even in small ways, it will have a collective positive effect on our society.



11 thoughts on “Cognitive Dissonance and the 2016 Presidential Election

  1. I also live in Dallas! And Dallas can be a very interesting place to have liberal opinions. I don’t know that you do, but I’m just making a guess based on what you’ve said. If someone charges at me due to a liberal comment, I simply say I don’t want to discuss it, OR I will talk to them if they calm down, OR, online, I tell them I won’t let anyone speak to me in such a manner, and don’t contact me again. I find it unbelievable how nasty some people can be! Never in a million years would I use such vitriolic language toward someone.

  2. I am the opposite of you. I can’t get upset by the election. It doesn’t bother me.

    I find it all very fascinating. I read the papers and watch the news with a detachment that is perhaps, borne of a belief that something big is afoot and we just don’t know yet what it is.

    It is a storm, no doubt about it. A hurricane. We are being pushed to and fro. And my nearest and dearest share your experience. The side effects include heartburn, sleepless nights, and feelings of despair and hopelessness.

    But I’ve always liked bad weather. After it passes, the landscape is altered. And we usually understand a little better what is important, what humanity needs, what is essential for survival.

    May you find a way to ride out the storm.


  3. It is so unlike me to get involved in politics. I come from a highly political filled with activists family and yet, for the most part, succeed in keeping my thoughts to myself 🙂
    Not this election cycle. I blame Trump and his craziness but I can’t seem to keep my pie hole closed 🙂

  4. Dear Paula, I’m with you. In June I cried off and on for a few days. Then things got a little better. But now I’m worried there will be street tension because people will physically challenge others who want to vote! Where is it all going to end. So I can’t wait until it is all over and am praying our country and our people will be okay.

  5. I share your feelings, believe me. I have put a lot of distance between myself and the few friends I have leaning the other way. I’ve unfriended ‘acquaintances’ who were hateful, too. I’m concerned for my grandchildren as they hear this hateful rhetoric. May the good ones win!

  6. I don’t usually get involved in politics either, but this year is different. I never imagined that I’d hear such outrageous things from a person who was running for president. It’s scary.

  7. Thank you for your thoughts Beth. It’s comforting to hear from others who feel the way I do. I’m seriously concerned about the threat of violence as well. I’m saying some prayers with you!

  8. I’ve found myself limiting interactions with aquaintances too. While the hateful people scare me, the many who reject violence and intolerance keep me hopeful that the goodness will prevail.

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