First! What on earth is COGNITIVE DISSONANCE?
As I mentioned last week, cognitive dissonance is squirminess of a particular kind. It is the squirminess that happens when two conflicting yet important beliefs reside inside your skull.
You know, like:
- You believe cheating is wrong. You believe you are a good person. And then you cheat.
- You believe the lottery is a tax on fools. You think you are not foolish. Then the Powerball reaches 700 quintillion and ...
- You like the guy in the White House. You hear a political commentator saying that he could be doing a lot more to lower gas prices.
- You think being traditionally published is a mark of success. You believe you have what it takes to be a successful writer. But you've queried, and so far, no joy.
- You think being traditionally published is a mark of success. You get an agent! You get an offer from a Big 6 publisher! It's a "nice" deal. Meanwhile, you're reading tales of the self-published living off the income from their books.
Okay! Are you feeling squirmy yet? So here's the deal--cognitive dissonance itself isn't what's interesting here. What is: how people deal with it. Because, you know what we usually do? We either:
- change one of the beliefs (or associated thoughts or behaviors),
- acquire new beliefs consistent with ONE of the pre-existing beliefs, which tips the scales in favor of one, or
- forget or underplay one or both of the conflicting thoughts, reducing their importance and the discomfort.
I've been reading the articles in the Guardian and the NY Times. And the blogs (oh, the blogs!). And the Twitter. The very good points made by proponents of self-publishing, as well as those made by proponents of traditional publishing. There's been a *bit* of snipery on both sides, too.
I can't help but wonder, how much of a role does cognitive dissonance play here for writers and other industry professionals? It seems like it's much easier to demonize one side, to promote one message, to dismiss evidence inconsistent with one's argument, to two-dimensionalize the whole debate, than it is to examine it critically. Oh, and by critically, I don't mean harshly (because there's plenty of that going around!). I mean by examining the assumptions behind the arguments, the interests of the people making the arguments, and the actual facts (though let's just admit that "facts" are quite difficult to discern, because they are so very easy to spin).
This comes into play in politics, too. IN FACT, just last week I was listening to an NPR feature about this very concept and its role in partisan politics! Did any of you hear it? If you didn't, it's seriously worth a listen or a read. Especially the bits about how, when it comes down to emotional connections or facts, we tend to jettison facts and cling to our emotional loyalties. The interview discussed how to "inoculate" ourselves against that, as well. It's simple, actually: people who feel good about themselves can more easily integrate uncomfortable facts that are out of sync with those emotional connections. [Again, I do urge you to skip on over to that NPR link. I promise you won't regret it, and that you will laugh if you listen to the whole thing, which is less than 5 minutes long]
How about you? Are you taking in all the information about traditional vs. self-publishing and withholding judgment? (Or do you not actually care that much about it?) Do you think cognitive dissonance is in play? Where else have you spotted cognitive dissonance in action?
ONE MORE THING: On Wednesday, I will be hosting Brigid Kemmerer, the author of STORM, a book I have read three times because it is just that enjoyable. Stop by for a chance to win a signed copy of STORM, and to learn how Brigid manages family dynamics and interpersonal tension in her stories. Speaking as a psychologist and a writer, I can tell you I'm really in awe of how she does it, and the results.