16 Sep 2020
A Read Worth the Pain of Cognitive Dissonance
A family member emphatically insisted I read it. Her passionate praise fell on deaf ears as she forcibly heralded the merits of this book as a must read whilst refusing to tell me what it was about. Her ‘Just Do It’ approach irked me; especially at a time when I have little choice about what I can or can’t do.
Unbeknownst to her, the timing was poor. I had reached the pandemic pressure point of confusion – with no way to intellectualise what’s going on. I had used up all of my unemotionally intelligent socially inappropriate outburst cards at the start of the 2020 Black Lives Matters movement triggered by the killing of George Floyd – whilst trying to reconcile this feeling of being in a modern day tale of two cities – some days enjoying the best of times and others, the worst.
It didn’t help that the Black Panther had died; and even though I was on a strict media diet, videos of police brutality sneaked into my feeds at the same time as a flurry of virtuous corporate Black Lives Matters Marketing campaigns that created currency for brands but appeared to give no capital to the communities most affected.
To top it all I had delivered an emotional intelligence based ‘workshop’ that had missed the mark, becoming a philosophical ‘lecture’. My attempt to create a-ha moments to empower and enlighten took up time and space at a time where people needed to be given time and space. The feedback let me know that regardless of your racial classification, now is not the time for humanitarian ‘can’t we just all get along’ rhetoric – intentional actions are needed more than words.
Little Fires Everywhere
Sparks of cognitive dissonance were catching fire everywhere turning into raging wildfires of undiagnosed depression as a global nation danced offbeat trying to act normal while reconciling where they fit in the context of marginalisation and privilege.
“Cognitive dissonance is a theory that explains the distress one can experience when attempting to reconcile opposing points of view. This can cause mental and physical pain. The mind battles to reconcile differing ideas. This conflict causes mental dysfunctions and physical pain. It also hampers our ability to use reason and common sense. The mind reacts to protect its “sacred ground” of beliefs regardless of their validity or accuracy.”
Listening to and observing my black peers grappling with the right to honour our first world pandemic problems; mustering up the courage to fight imposter syndrome and survivor guilt whilst navigating the best way to use our ‘power’ to empower whilst fighting off the whispers that tell us standing up for something publicly is equivalent to professional self sabotage, was/is to say the least – a lot.
So, now, however well intentioned, was not the time for forced book recommendations with no context.
“What you resist persist” – C G Jung
The algorithm of life presented the book to me from 101 new angles clearly trying to get my attention. My failed workshop helped me to have the humility to recognise I needed to invite in new ideas as my current toolkit was no longer fit for purpose. A quick internet search took me to an interview with Isabel Wilkerson – the interview was enough for me to make the decision to download the book from Audible.
The book is thorough. It was a personally rewarding listen. This story was told through the lens of a black African American female who straddles many worlds of marginalisation, privilege and power, bringing alive the concepts in a way that makes the book layered and worth reading multiple times. The book empowers, humiliates, angers and consoles as it takes us on a global journey that provides parallels and analogies that creates discomfort and a-ha moments.
It provides a reference guide and framework for constructive debate and discussion.
The book provides a call to action in order to empower people from different ‘castes’ to increase self-awareness of the cultural codes of conduct that we are often unconsciously choosing to reinforce which is having a cataclysmic impact on the the way we all engage with the ‘mythology of power’ based on the illusion of our own superiority or inferiority which creates real consequences for the development of humanity.
Many academics, cultural commentators and race experts have articulated the points in Isabel Wilkerson’s book before but her book provides a millennial language, full of references that make it relevant for a new generation whose behaviour is informed by history but now due to globalisation and technology have the ability to access information to challenge a 400 year old system that is no longer sustainable and has become counterintuitive to human and economic development.
The book provides food for thought and an invitation to radically redefine empathy. It is a book for all lives but especially those who have power and are ready to decide whether the history they create today by ignoring the past is the future they want their children to experience by reinforcing it.
The book is not a panacea but its a perfect pandemic read, that may help us to calm the coming storm and put out some fires, by taking the time we are inside our homes to take a look at what’s really going on inside our heads and challenge it before it turns into a wildfire.
Like my family member, I emphatically recommend this book; and hopefully I have provided you with enough context as to why, its worth just reading it.