Wednesday, May 09, 2012

On Cognitive Dissonance

When I was an active member of a makeup forum, right around the time I first started conversing online, there were members who were eager to explain cognitive dissonance theory to me. These were the same people who couldn't fathom someone being in an interreligious relationship (but they didn't seem to have issues with dual citizenship - go figure). Honestly, I felt like the theory itself was more confusing than any kind of dissonance, but that could be my own cognitive dissonance at work. All I know is that if you overanalyze, you can become irrational by seeking to become too rational - which is what you need to watch for with rationalism, objectivism, or reading Seth books. The danger in over-rationalization is that real life isn't a set of numbers you can predictably crunch. Life is full of grey areas, especially in matters of the heart, or morality, which is why it's so hard to get opposing sides of the political spectrum to listen to each other. But there's some dissonance you can avoid by following your heart over your head - or, if you prefer, vice versa. I prefer the former, which is not always "wise" but what's good is probably "good" in the long run, which I hope will ultimately be what was wise, too.

Two things I'll share with you are not meant to judge anyone who decided differently in their own lives as to what to do in these scenarios. One time, I was asked to do a voice-over with a Chinese accent. I said I couldn't do it - not because I couldn't fake one, because with people I'm close to, I do all kinds of accents, not just regional ones, but I didn't want there to be a recording with my name on it showing me making fun of someone's accent if I couldn't actually speak the language well enough to mock. It was a decision based not only on my own challenges of learning English - mind you, I was never put in ESL, and went straight to regular class upon arrival - but on self-preservation. This Chinese accent that I could have done in that nasal tone associated with the language in all its dialects, could have been done had I swallowed my pride or maybe guilt, and gotten paid to do a simple thing asked of me. Saying no in a professional setting leads to not getting more work. It can lead to regret if the consequence of the action is especially punishing or ostracizing. However, it could also save you from getting into other kinds of trouble later, the initial reason why I chose not to do it in the first place.

Another experience I'll share is about the last time I went head-to-head with a network boss, back when I still had my TV gig. They wanted me to say something a bit racist towards black people, a line that was written by someone who was fresh off the boat, and I refused. I knew it would cost me, but by that point, I also knew the show had had a long run, I wasn't getting younger, and the whole staff was so sick of doing the show every week, they were telling me how sick they were of seeing me everywhere. People get cabin fever, and it's hard to keep ideas fresh if your lifestyle is an unending cycle. But I held my ground and that was that. I don't regret my decision and I doubt I ever will. I knew I couldn't represent this great city and talk ill of the people here in a foreign language, even if no one here ever discovered the recording in my lifetime. I want people to know I truly loved this city that gave me everything (including meeting my bosses, which was actually through music), that it wasn't something I pretended to love because I and my family were promised the world. Would I be crazy enough to live here if I didn't love it so? Or is loving this city what's crazy to begin with? There I go overanalyzing, and so I shall stop.

So, like everyone, I have embarrassing things that people can find out about me to humiliate me with if they wanted to looked for them, but they won't hear me getting paid to act racist. Sure, people are forgiving when they feel forgiving, but I don't have the same kinds of freedoms to act any way I want, because I'm an immigrant, forever an alien even if I've been here way, way longer than I ever spent in the country of my birth. And I don't judge others for saying racist things haphazardly in everyday life if I know their hearts. It's the same reason I can let go of racist things comedians say on-screen, because I know show biz is exactly that - a show, getting an audience any way it can. And I could rant and rave like an old lady about the injustices I see on TV, and change nothing. But I couldn't go there myself, the convoluted crossroads where you lose your entire soul. Protecting the powerless is where I drew my own line, to avoid cognitive dissonance. If people try to make me feel bad or stupid for my own arrogant decision to hold onto that particular set of ethics, so be it; it's not a reflection on me if I didn't feel I had any choices but the ones I made.

Would you call my mental state cognitive dissonance? I'll leave it up to you to analyze, because I've had people analyze me before, and the talks were helpful to have someone there to mirror my own thoughts, but all they really did in the end was suggest I get prescriptions for valium or something to help me think about their theories more.

Added on May 9, 2012: Here are some articles re: cognitive dissonance theory. As I read them, I was reminded of how one of those makeup forum members had messaged me saying she was surprised how "strong" I was. Maybe the psych people have been studying my behavior through these beauty forums. Well, I'm not on any pills as of yet, so maybe that's what they meant by that - who knows?

Related link: Cognitive Dissonance - May 9, 2012

As seen in The New York Times Magazine

As seen in The New York Times Magazine
PINK MANHATTAN was mentioned in The New York Times Magazine in "The Medium: Good Vibrations" by Virginia Heffernan on 3/16/08.

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