Our attitudes, meaning the way we feel about things, have three main dimensions:
– cognitive: what we know about a topic (e.g. smoking is bad for health)
– value: how we think things should be (e.g. smoking is wrong, it reflects a lack of love for life)
– behavioral: how things are (e.g. I don’t smoke).
When all three dimensions are pointing in the same direction, we are in a state of consonance. Dissonance happens otherwise. Smokers are known to feel dissonant – their behaviours do not match their values or knowledge.
States of dissonance are expensive to maintain for our brains, so we try hard to balance the three dimensions out. A smoker might say that his great great father smoked til he was 105! Or conjure some complicated value plot, like “a cigarette gives me so much pleasure it is worth the wrong it does” or “my children can fend for themselves after 18”. Anything goes to justify the unjustifiable. Or some people restore consonance between knowledge, values, and behaviour by quitting smoking.
Love is also affected by the need to avoid dissonance. For example, often men in traditional cultures and less traditional ones as well have their whole life mapped out, “I will finish my degree, then move to LA, then do this then that, and only then will I marry”. Then along the path they meet the love of their lives, that person they really get on with, but they will not let themselves open their hearts to that wonder because they have a plan! So the mind conjures excuses, “she has a twitch in her eye”, something silly to increase the consonance with the original plan. Then, when the planned marriage stage finally arrives, they marry the woman who is around, as if one woman were the same as any other, and live unhappily ever after. They may even think they do not deserve this late-found unhappiness, they did everything right. Failing to see the wonders the Universe lays in your path is not doing everything right Mr.
I fell in love recently. Head over heals. I had definitely forgotten what that was like. But there were uncontournable dissonances for both of us, including geographical, and, try as we might, we couldn’t reconcile them. So, torn between behaviour and values and knowledge, we both had no choice but to minimise the importance of that precious flood of feelings, find irrelevant faults here and there, and stick to our knowledge and our values. Dillacerating tho it was. Love can only find shelter within a project that leads to a satisfying life on more levels than just the heart and the body.
Is this post hugely incongruent?