COGNITIVE DISSONANCE OR “BLISS”ONANCE?

NOTE:  I was asked to ghostwrite for Diana Shaffner, who runs a wonderful farm animal sanctuary called GOOD ACRES SANCTUARIES in Lawrenceburg, KY (goodacres.us).  Ms. Shaffner was inspired by the quote by the Dalai Lama introduced at the beginning of the article, and she allowed me to write and run with it.  Diana paid me $50 for it, which I find to be so kind, as I know she is struggling with the farm, as the farm tours which brings in much of the money she needs to run the sanctuary has been put to a stop because OF COVID-19.  So, please, visit GOOD ACRES SANCTUARIES (goodacres.us) and make a donation if you are so compelled…and enjoy the article! I hope you can “diss” to get the “bliss” today!

COGNITIVE DISSONANCE OR “BLISS”ONANCE?

an article by Timothy J. Verret

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.”

–Dalai Lama

I think Dalai Lama is RIGHT!  We are facing so much uncertainty and confusion in our current state (and country and world) of affairs.  According to Lama’s quote above, it is love and compassion that are necessary to save humanity.  So, is Lama onto something really huge here? Can we, by exercising love and compassion for all people, save human lives?  What about having love and compassion for animals, as well?  And what does it “look like” to have love and compassion for all?  And are we going to reap some beneficial benefits by the love and compassion we sow?  And what is this “cognitive dissonance” or my cleverly made-up-counterclaim, “bliss”onance, referred to in the title of this article?  Okay, you can breathe from my line of questioning!  Let us journey on to get some of these questions answered!

Having love and compassion for our fellow man and animal is something that, at first glance, might be like, “duh.”  Easy enough, right?  But what happens when we experience what in psychology circles call “cognitive dissonance?”  What does that term even mean? “Cognitive dissonance” is defined as, “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.”  So, let’s use an example here:  If someone says they love animals and yet they eat meat or buy products that are tested on animals, aren’t they in “cognitive dissonance?”  And does this set up an “internal conflict” in a person, what can be dialogued as, “I SAY one thing, but I DO another.”  Another example would be if someone says they are a trustworthy person and, at the same time, they tell a friend’s confided secret to another, is that person really trustworthy? And if someone says they are a loving and compassionate person and, at the same time, they are not loving and compassionate toward themselves, are they really a loving and compassionate person?  Yes, these fall into the category of “cognitive dissonance,” and the damage might be more detrimental than at first glance.

When someone says, “I am loving and compassionate,” and yet their actions and attitudes don’t match up with that, something happens inside their body.  The more noticeable, available reaction from this cognitive dissonance is that one will feel uncomfortable and un-ease, which over time can lead to all sorts of dis-ease like high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.  And it even goes deeper than this. We are talking about what happens in the brain.  According to a study done by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, researchers “measured EEGs of human subjects during rest and free-choice paradigms. Our study demonstrates that choices associated with stronger cognitive dissonance trigger a larger negative frontocentral-evoked response similar to error-related negativity, which has in turn been implicated in general performance monitoring.”  What this means is that when one is in cognitive dissonance, they are “negatively” impacted in the brain which breeds “negative” actions and attitudes.  Seems like a no-brainer, no pun intended, right?  It would also appear to be almost impossible to have a “positive” outlook and attitude toward one’s self or another fellow man or animal, if in one’s actions fall into the “negativity zone” of cognitive dissonance. I think Victor Frankl, who wrote the book, Man’s Search For Meaning, about how he and countless others managed to stay alive and sane in Nazi Concentration Camps during the Holocaust, had the best definition of, and the best solution to, cognitive dissonance:  “Each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life, he can only respond by being responsible.” 

So, if we wish to exercise love and compassion for all mankind and animalkind (I highly recommend PETA President Ingrid Newkirk’s recent book of the same name), then we need to get cognitively “bliss”onance.  If we say we have love and compassion for all, then our attitudes and actions need to line up with that.  I will use myself, as flawed as I am, as an example:  I most assuredly claim that I have love and compassion for animals.  As a result, I do not eat meat, I do not buy any products tested on animals, I do not wear any type of clothing that is made from an animal, and I do not attend circuses or zoos where animals are beaten and kept in captivity for my amusement.  So, in my humblest opinion, my actions and attitudes of having love and compassion for animals line up.  Now, so you don’t think I’m perfect (because I’m not), I am very loving and compassionate toward my fellowman and fellow animal, yet I can be extremely unloving and even cruel to myself when I make a mistake and/or say something “stupid.”  This is cognitive dissonance.  The “bliss”onance would be for me to be loving and compassionate toward my fellowman, fellow animal, AND myself! 

Friends who know me very well know that I am a “realist” and strive for authenticity as it relates to the human condition.  On that note, as regards cognitive dissonance and “bliss”onance, I would like to use a car battery as an analogy for the human condition.  In order for a car to run, the car battery has to have both positive and negative charges….well, charging!  We are like that car battery.  We are “works in progress” when it comes to balancing out positivity and negativity.  I think we all want to be more positive, because we want the world and all its creation and creatures to exist in a “positive” place free from pain and suffering.  And I would like to think the more positive we are ourselves, this “positive” place will naturally evolve.  But if we are negative in our outlook, attitudes and actions, then it stands to reason that the world and all its creation and creatures will seem “negative” in character and relationships with one another.  I guess what I’m trying to say is we are BOTH!  Not one single human being walking the planet is PERFECTLY PERFECT OR PERFECTLY FLAWED!  We are BOTH “positive” and “negative.”  But we can “charge” ourselves to be more positive and less negative in the lofty pursuit of saving both humans and animals, as Dalai Lama so eloquently asks of us. 

Cognitive dissonance or “bliss”onance?  I think we gotta watch out for BOTH!  If we’re not tuned into what makes us “tick” and not, i.e., cognitive dissonance or “bliss”onance, we can’t fix that clock!  But we can “fix” it by choosing positivity over negativity.  They say we can’t heal a wound if we don’t know we even have a wound, so, the “wound” is cognitive dissonance and that gets healed in the name of cognitive “bliss”onance, i.e., being loving and compassionate to the people and animals you encounter, as well as yourself.

(Timothy J. Verret is a writer, a painter, and an artist.  He received his Bachelor of Arts in Degree in Drama from the University of Texas at Austin.  Timothy had his children’s book, Clarabelle Comes Clean, published and now is available for sale on Amazon.com.  He also has two plays, the denial family and Ingenting, as well as a collection of sonnets entitled Seventy-Seven Spiritual Sonnets: From Storms to Serenity also available for sale on Amazon.com.  Timothy shares his life with that crazy cat, Conrad, and Blue, a dog who he seems to have adopted and who is the inspiration for Timothy’s newest children’s book, I’M IN THE “MOO, MOO, MOO”D FOR BLUE, BLUE, BLUE)

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