Saturday, October 19, 2013
Wait A Minute! That Can't Be True
You see something very clearly, and yet your mind says: “That can’t be true.” I apply the term “cognitive dissonance” to that situation.
I’ve had it happen to me any number of times. I recall the morning I was on my way to work, traveling about 45mph on a dark street, when suddenly the car in front of me stopped. No, he didn’t hit his brakes, but he just stopped. For a brief moment my mind said: “That can’t be true. There were no brake lights.” And then I reacted hitting my brakes --- too late, and plowing into the stopped car. What I hadn’t known was that the driver in front of me went through a similar reaction, as he came upon a dark car, stopped on the dark road, with no lights or flashers on, and he had plowed into it without ever hitting his brakes. Both of us couldn’t believe our eyes, and eventually paid a hefty price for our delayed reactions --- because we just couldn’t believe what was happening.
I recall another time when I walked beyond the corner of a building into the alleyway behind, when suddenly a truck slammed on its brakes, stopping inches from me. I stood there frozen like a deer in the headlights, unable to believe what was happening, or rather what almost happened. These instances where our mind doesn’t believe our eyes are rare, but not uncommon. It happens to all of us. It’s like one of our senses is detached from our mind, and our mind reacts to them with disbelief, and so it ignores what doesn’t “make sense” to the mind.
But sometimes it happens beyond our senses, when one portion of our mind can’t react to another portion, and in truth that is the real definition of the term “cognitive dissonance.” Webster defines cognitive dissonance as: “psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.” The term implies that the mind tries to rationalize incompatible beliefs, that a “conflict” exists in the mind until the differing beliefs are understood. Unfortunately today, it appears modern man abhors “conflict,” even in his mind, that when it happens he just ignores the whole situation. “If I don’t think about it, it’s not there.”
That’s why you can hear a person talk about how wonderful their soon-to-be-born baby is and how much they love him, while on another day the same person with other priorities might say --- perhaps even about the same baby --- “I need an abortion.” It’s similar to the mindset of a divorced Protestant pastor, who in today’s paper explains how she discovered that the Bible really accepts “all love” --- after she found herself in love with some other woman. Her mind couldn’t rationalize what she knew the Bible taught versus her physical reactions. The resolution of cognitive dissonance in many such minds becomes a simple matter; all they need do is ask themselves what they want most NOW, and that is the right thing to do --- no matter what other facts, rationale, or even their senses tell them. They want what they want because they want it ---- and so it must be right. And they convince themselves they are happy with that resolution of the situation.
The apostles proclaimed to the people of their day that Jesus had risen from the dead, and that they had seen Him. Considering how people handle cognitive dissonance today, it really WAS a miracle that there were ANY converts to the faith then. How many of them must have said: “That can’t be true.”
Resolving cognitive dissonance by picking one of the conflicting alternatives is in itself not a bad thing, but Jesus said what must be chosen is the truth, not what we want the truth to be. I think that sometimes that is the real conflict: we want something which is false to be true, and we’ll lie to ourselves to make it so. But the truth can be found in conflicting matters, if we would look for it.
With a faith in God and in His Word, and a yearning to know His will, we can find the truth, no matter how much our conflicted mind might be saying: “That can’t be true.” It’s amazing, the truth that God sent His only Son to proclaim, but it really CAN be true. And billions of people have attested to that truth, sometimes even with their lives.
And we too need to react to that truth, and not gaze on it like a deer frozen in the headlights, wishing it were not so, thinking we know a better, easier way to make us happy --- for now.