Any parent will tell you that, Challenging Our Parenting Beliefs is Hard.
Compassion, Patience, Humility: Responding to Cognitive Dissonance
Maria Bangs /// Barrel of Oranges
Cognitive dissonance is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when a strongly-held, often cultural belief is challenged with conflicting information, experiences, research, or viewpoints. Almost always, cognitive dissonance manifests in denial and often a visceral reaction, depending on the topic. Because it is psychologically uncomfortable to hold opposing points of view, we make the human choice to either deny or ignore new information, holding onto our strongly-held belief, or we resolve our dissonance with psychological dissociation.
We all suffer from cognitive dissonance because we are all ethnocentric by nature. We naturally think the way we see the world is the “right” way, regardless of who we are, or where we come from, or what we believe.
It takes great courage, and sometimes great pain, to lay our cultural beliefs, attitudes, privileges, and biases to the wayside, in light of new information, experiences, and viewpoints. Resolving cognitive dissonance is a higher-thinking skill.
When it comes to parenting, cognitive dissonance often manifests in some of the most violent and virulent expressions, and it’s because as parents we love our children fiercely, and our parenting choices are real-life manifestations of that passionate and fierce love. When we encounter new, and conflicting information to how we raise our children or choices we’ve made as parents, it is often with adamant denial we reject or ignore new information.
Why shouldn’t denial be a natural response?
Imagine learning that something you thought was good turned out to be very very bad, and in fact had irreversible, negative implications? Imagine the grief of learning you irreparably harmed your children, and you thought you were doing the right thing? Doing what was best for them?
That is a very bitter pill to swallow. The grief of that knowledge as a parent who loves their children more than anything in this world, is almost unbearable. And for many, it is.
Many people will live their entire lives never challenging their beliefs, never resolving their cognitive dissonance, and never critiquing their ethnocentrism. Which is why we bump into cognitive dissonance at nearly every turn when discussing controversial parenting topics. Human arrogance is a difficult drug to quit.
Humility is ultimately the antidote to cognitive dissonance.
Humility means that our beliefs are mutable, and we know we possess the capacity to be wrong, even when we are sure we are right. History has shown us how often we are wrong, about human development, about science, about ethics, about what’s good for children, which means we all hold beliefs worthy of examination.
When we look inward, at all the possible ways our own ethnocentrism could be flawed, we then develop a compassion and a skill for allowing others to achieve the same introspection, self-awareness, and freedom to change previously-held beliefs.
When we encounter cognitive dissonance in others, especially when it manifests as hostility, we can remember that it was with patience and grace we arrived at new and better ways of raising our children. Indeed, we ourselves had to arrive at a place of humility where we developed the courage to examine our strongly-held beliefs.
When dealing with my own or someone else’s cognitive dissonance, I follow this simple mantra:
Stop. Listen. Empathise.
We may not be able to tackle the denial of cognitive dissonance as often as it shows up, but with grace, compassion, patience, and humility we can lay the first few stones in the pathway to that end.
Maria Bangs is a social justice activist, attachment parent, and blogger at www.barreloforanges.com. When she’s not championing human rights, you can find her playing in the snow or surf, reading a good book, or on Twitter @barreloforanges
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