By Deb Moore
Cognitive dissonance. That’s the feeling gnawing at me for almost a year now. So, what happened last year that sparked this angst? Well, that’s when I finally found my “tribe”. What?
Why would finding a new intellectual home with like minds on vitally important issues, especially during such chaotic times, bring anything other than comradery and comfort? This uncomfortable experience emerged from my own observations of common human proclivities and behaviors, including my own, and realizing that these particular tendencies may be at the root of all disagreements, from personal interactions to world wars. At the same time that I am acknowledging such disturbing realizations, I also notice that my mind and heart are being blown wide open, which, in spite of discomfort, feels like good and necessary spiritual and moral growth.
As a life-long impassioned proponent of holistic medicine, developed out of lived experience, as well as a great deal of academic and practical research, I had long been aware of and philosophically supportive of the “health freedom” movement, but was never involved with it. As my concern and horror grew with Covid and vaccines taking over everyone’s lives, I was delighted to learn, last winter, that Vermont had its very own Health Choice organization, and I instantly became involved. This became my new tribe, and I felt right at home from the start. I was finally surrounded with people who “got it” as I did, and felt (and still feel) such a connection with these intelligent, educated, caring people who dare to think outside of the allopathic medical model box. Home at last! – Or not?
For someone who spent life as a default Democrat and then a probable Progressive (at least a Berniephile), I quickly started to notice that most of my new tribe’s political leanings were not exactly compatible with many assumptions and inclinations I had in me for my whole life. Yup, it seemed increasingly clear that many of these folks I felt so great about were also decidedly right-leaning. I felt I was trespassing in enemy territory! I didn’t know where to put my mind and my feelings, and thus: cognitive dissonance!
Well, it’s been quite a journey for me, and it’s still ongoing. I have been immersed in this other, somewhat foreign world that has grown larger for me than the initial group of health freedom folks. This includes the only media outlets that report Covid-related information I believe to be accurate and science-based, but that I would never, ever have considered patronizing up until now. This is bizarro-world for me, topsy-turvy, upside-down.
But along with these shifts in habits, I am also experiencing unfamiliar shifts within myself. I’ve been learning how to allow myself to be open to learning where the Other is coming from. But the most important side effect of this has turned out to be the growing observations mentioned earlier, observations from both points of view that have led me to really startling conclusions. And that is the real point of this essay.
Coming into my present life directly from a position as a Trump detester, I feel like I’m in another country experiencing culture shock. But – I am listening. And I’m realizing that I’ve never really before allowed myself the opportunity to listen. That this Other that I had come to denigrate and fear, had more in common with me than I imagined, and that I’d really better listen to learn why they should feel so very differently than their “Other”, which was, really – me – or at least the me that I had been, kind of by default. Then that is what really started my larger observations: both sides are doing exactly the same things to their others! The same kind of blaming, generalizing, fear-mongering, name-calling. I’ve made up an actual list of epithets and blame-names. For every label or charge on one side, there is a corresponding one from the other, sometimes the very same!
Observing this behavior coming from both factions has really brought home what I believe to be the crux of this whole thing: a) ordinary people from both right and left ALL essentially want the same things from their lives and their country; b) everybody keeps listening to the side that feels more compatible with their views, which hardens these views, especially when these views are shaded or twisted by biased media; c) nobody is really listening to where the Other side is coming from! I believe this because, if they were, they would find very, very little difference on a basic level, and the actual differences would feel smaller and less emotionally offensive. “They” are not a monolithic block of same-minds; I am living proof of that from the left, and I’m finding right-leaners who are also independent and eclectic thinkers.
As for the Left/Right split in this country, I’m beginning to believe that it is contrived or manipulated. I will not speculate here who or what is causing that, but in any case, this intense negativity is now clearly endemic in the whole population. This is the kind of animosity that drives any war. I’m aware of groups that are actively trying to bridge different sides of various political bifurcations, and that when such bridging happens, communication and de-vilifying occurs. My de-programming has been a DIY endeavor, not always easy, but it’s working.
I still cringe a lot when I hear generalized name-calling from either side, which represents to me a one-dimensional perception of the Other. Both sides often see the Other as pure Evil, and I’m learning now that there is depth and experience from which both sides are coming that is simply overlooked and not even acknowledged by the other side. Each side sees the Other as a one-dimensional caricature, not as a three-dimensional sentient entity. How can anything other than WAR result with this kind of mis-interpretation and mis-perception going on, on both sides?
It IS possible for two sides of any argument to come to agreement on how to move forward together. This has been done for eons in this country and everywhere else. (Or not, and then: WARS, of which there have been plenty.) What does it take? First, the willingness to listen. Listening not only acknowledges the Other as a sovereign entity, but one with legitimate history that is worth acknowledging respectfully. Second, listening with EMPATHY: realizing that one’s own side doesn’t have a monopoly on legitimate emotional content. Third, to actively, together, seek out commonalities, including values and goals: sharing. Fourth, to agree on logistics for any joint ventures from which to start. Fifth, to keep listening!
ALL of us are flawed and trying to do the best we can to get along in a scary world. But we all have the responsibility – as well as the wherewithal – to recognize when we are unnecessarily exacerbating an already tense situation, and to curb our instincts, which include not only irrational words or actions, but also perceptions of the Other as evil. While there may be forces of evil at work behind the scenes, it can help to realize that even the ordinary people who are carrying out evil orders are doing so unwittingly and think the same of you!
While I’m still grappling with my cognitive dissonance, it has brought me to places – inside and outside of myself – that I never imagined I would be, and the struggle is much less intense than it was. The fun part for me is the learning process: feeling myself open up and increasingly understand better, and sometimes even switching points of view that I thought were forever etched in my soul. It is somewhat liberating, actually. And it helps me be an even more loving and empathic person. There are some political beliefs I will never swap, but I feel good about being a critical thinker and allowing myself the possibility of making strange choices I never thought I’d be making. I recommend it.
Deb Moore, PhD, is passionate about the health of the Earth and its inhabitants, and involved with various efforts to mitigate its poisoning. Her Clark U. doctoral degree is unique and interdisciplinary: The Philosophy and Sociology of Science and Medicine. She is Director of a national environmental health nonprofit, Second Look, and is a writer trying to find time to finish a non-fiction book. She lives in Central Vermont.