February 19, 2012

Cognitive dissonance means we talk past each other

One of the most interesting phenomena I see each week is our ability to hear one thing and think someone said something else.

I see this in response to my columns. I consider myself a pretty middle-of-the-road person who tries to synthesize positions from all sides into something logically consistent. It helps me make sense of what is happening around us and explain it to others in a convincing way.

Instead, I notice that some compartmentalize what they hear. I see that happening in responses to my columns. Some notice that I work for the college. They then place me in the "state employee" box and view what I write as coming from that perspective.

Others see that I teach, so I must be liberal, or see I was once a business-school dean, so I must be conservative.

These labels allow one to filter and view what I say from a different perspective than what I intended. My discussions then become affronts to their positions, on one or another side, rather than invitations for a thoughtful dialogue.

This cognitive dissonance is human nature. Simply put, when reality seems uncomfortable, we revise our view of reality. Such selection of facts is easy these days. We have the luxury of turning on a particular television channel and hearing only views from others who share our perspectives.

There is little true discussion, debate or exchange of ideas, only "entermation," my new term for entertainment that pretends to inform. And, with the larger and more diverse towns and cities within which we live, we can each find a group just like us so none of us has to really deal with any uncomfortable truths or differences.

Behavioral economists see cognitive dissonance as a way for us to create order in our world and in our thoughts. As society gets increasingly complex, we seek order not by thinking harder, but rather by selecting facts that are more consistent with our beliefs, or by surrounding ourselves with people who will filter information for us.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
  • colin_read.jpg Good organizations lack drama

    Groups that accomplish their objectives do so with a minimum of distraction and politics, focusing instead on creativity and a dynamic vision, according to columnist Colin Read.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Parking fines a short-sighted policy

    Tourists should be encouraged to do business downtown without fear of getting tickets, according to columnist Colin Read.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Technical training a key part of education

    Recently honored, Champlain Valley Educational Services offers meaningful careers for those not heading for college, according to columnist Colin Read.

    July 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Constitution withstands test of time

    The nation's founding document is a delicate balance that we should continue to nurture, according to columnist Colin Read.

    July 6, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg This region helped shape a new nation

    As we celebrate our nation's history, we must also appreciate the key role the North Country played in the founding of two countries, according to columnist Colin Read.

    June 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Diversity of views a key to progress

    With today's mobile society and 24-hour media, like-minded people tend to congregate together stifling diversity of opinion, according to columnist Colin Read.

    June 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Local heros needed to inspire us all

    It takes individual talent and initiative to truly move a community forward to fulfill its economic destiny, according to columnist Colin Read.

    June 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Fee on carbon needed

    Creating incentives to curb emissions is critical to containing climate change, according to columnist Colin Read.

    May 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Governor inspires renewed shared-services effort

    Tax-cap plan has provided incentives for municipalities to get together to try and increase savings and efficiency, according to columnist Colin Read.

    May 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • colin_read.jpg Pipeline issue has no simple answer

    If Alberta oil is not transported through Keystone, it will cause more pollution to send it to China, according to columnist Colin Read.

    May 11, 2014 1 Photo