Cognitive Dissonance – Yes, you have it.

funny-fire-sign-twitterLast week I wrote about 2 separate topics. Convenience friendships and how people have difficulty reconciling conflicting information. As I explained, when you strongly believe something, for example your husband is a wonderful person, you may be unwilling to accept any evidence to the contrary. That’s why friends are often advised not to tell a wife about a cheating spouse. The wife is likely to attack the messenger, thinking he/she has something to gain by lying. This can also translate to work situations and other types of relationships. Let’s say you are the GM at a Marriott and think your management team is the best in the business. If someone came to you and said that your management team was abusive to the housekeeping staff, you may have difficulty reconciling that against your previously held beliefs. You may decide the person making that claim is exaggerating, is mistaken, etc. It’s easier to remove the puzzle piece (the person making the claim) then to change your belief system about your team. That is really what my previous blog post was about.

What is coincidental about my post is that I began reading a new book on Saturday. It happened to mention the phenomenon I was trying to capture. There is actually a name for it, it’s called Cognitive Dissonance. As explained by Jon Ronson, the author of So You’ve Been Publically Shamed, “It feels stressful and painful for us to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time. So to ease the pain, we create illusory ways to justify our contradictory behavior”.  It felt good to know that not only did I understand a truth about human nature but there is actually a name for what I’ve observed.

Ronson’s book focuses on people that have been publically shamed by well-meaning people, who on their own would not engage in this behavior. For example, do you recall Justine Sacco? I have a feeling you won’t remember the name, but you will remember the situation. Justine was the Sr. Director of Corporate Communication at a Media and Internet Company. She sent the following tweet, before boarding her flight from NYC to South Africa.

“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”

Justine knew that white people are not immune to AIDS. It was meant to be a humorous social commentary, yet she was destroyed by it. You can read more about what happened to Justine at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html?_r=0.

Justine was an unknown person to the twitter universe. She had 170 followers.  Yet, because of this one tweet, people became her judge and jury. They vilified her. It was fun. Reading about Justine’s experience, I was moved by some of the things she said. One of the people credited for making the tweet go viral told Ronson that he had a feeling Justine would be, “fine eventually, if not already”. Justine’s response?

“Well, I’m not fine. I’m really suffering. I had a great career and I loved my job and it was taken away from me and there was a glory in that. Everyone else was very happy about that. I cried my body weight in the first twenty-four hours. It was incredibly traumatic. You don’t sleep. You wake up in the middle of the night forgetting where you are. All of a sudden you don’t know what you are supposed to do. You have no schedule. You’ve got no purpose.”

I have a feeling just as many of us can relate to that, as can relate to jumping on the social media bandwagon.

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