My daughter, “Emily”, and I have some great talks. Today we talked about advertising, and blogging, and non-profits, and the dynamics of changing public perception and opinion. I suggested that opinion is changed at the deepest level by one on one sharing, when we come to understand and internalize the philosophy of another. Emily recalled reading interviews with close associates of Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement, who voiced their opinion that people don’t change their ways out of the goodness of their hearts; change has to be forced.
I can see it both ways. I doubt women would have the vote yet, if they hadn’t made some men rather miserable. And loud protests make issues hard to ignore. On the other hand, I voice the opinion that we can’t control others, and don’t believe we should try. I’ve also adopted the thought that we each have a circle of influence, and we can affect those within that circle – those we contact – either gently or with force. I, personally, am most likely to make opinion changes when I hear compelling evidence without manipulation from people I trust to be truthful and who can see different perspectives. And who walk their talk.
Have I talked about “cognitive dissonance?” This is really interesting! When we learn something, we put it into a mental category – a file folder in the mind, sort of – an organizational scheme to manage what we know. When we learn something new, we “assimilate” the information, or put it into an existing folder. This is easy. When we learn something really new – something that doesn’t fit into an existing folder or that conflicts with existing information, we feel uneasy…things don’t fit, don’t match…we are uncomfortable. This is called “cognitive dissonance.” We can decide the information is incorrect, or dismiss it some other way, and throw it out. Easy. Or, we can change and oversimplify to MAKE it fit an existing category. Easy. Some, like me, are fairly comfortable with cognitive dissonance, and can leave it alone pending more clarification. OR, we resolve the cognitive dissonance by CREATING A NEW FOLDER, a new category, a SHIFT in our system or paradigm to “accommodate” the information. More work, but voila…a new, more effective, perspective! Well worth it! .
This is what I think: When people hear facts about domestic violence (or other issues), especially if it challenges our sense of comfort, safety and order, it is easily dismissed – we may throw the data out after brief perusal (“she must be lying,” “it can’t be that bad,” “she JUST needs to….”). When we hear enough facts and stories through which we feel others’ feelings and share their experience, and we relate personally – hmmm, then we are getting somewhere. When we can relate strongly enough, and the information is compelling enough, then we can’t, in good conscience, escape the cognitive dissonance. That is when we learn that “she can’t just leave,” “she can’t just pray it away,” “telling her to submit to abuse is dangerous.” ETC. To humanely deal with the people and issues before us, we create a new mental model or paradigm that fits the data.
As a kid, I used to get fired up and squawk loudly but ineffectively (sometimes still do). My mom used to say, “Diane….don’t sputter!” (Go ahead and laugh…I can’t hear you!). My way was to get mad and walk away in a huff, with dramatic, purposeful strides. (That really showed them! – Go ahead and laugh again – I do!) With Peter, nothing much gave me influence in my own life, without consequences I didn’t want to face or have the girls face. It did no good to squawk. As you know, I have asked for others to help, and often found that ineffective also. I almost quit squawking.
What I’m trying to learn now is squawk EFFECTIVELY. Just as we are to keep coming back to God to make our requests, we need to keep bringing this before others, not sugar-coated, not minimized…also not exaggerated or sensationalized. Just out there to see. Real. Visible enough to create cognitive dissonance. I squawk…in the form of my true stories, told with real swear words, to create identification with my thoughts and feelings as I lived it, and hopefully produce some “accommodation” that will equip someone to be a more effective helper/responder. Or maybe give enabling words to someone “running a gauntlet” so they can identify their own feelings and reality, and know they can have something better.
I want to GENTLY apply just enough FORCE (in words) to INFLUENCE those in my circle. It’s kind of strange, because I don’t think my readers include too many of the people who, in my opinion, need to change their views. Maybe this is just practice in putting it out there.
A sweet blogger friend recognizes such stories as “sacred.” Your stories are sacred also. Pointless suffering becomes meaningful. Victims become over comers and advocates. Maybe, weirdly, evil begets good.