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Soulful Sundays: Cognitive Dissonance

There comes a moment in everyone's life where the black and the white no longer make sense. The clear delineation between right and wrong, friend and foe, self and other no longer match the lived experience. Some look at these instances with panic, others choose not to look at them at all. This rattling of psychological frameworks is called cognitive dissonance, and sooner or later it happens to everyone.

The first departures from black and white reality happen in childhood. Picture the toddler who resists all efforts to be restrained only to return to his parents crying because he strayed too far. Children are constantly learning the boundaries that exist between the world and themselves. Growing up, we have all placed our faith in belief systems, institutions, and family members without any real knowledge to appropriately gauge their validity, and we have all suffered for that blind trust. Yet, faith in something bigger than ourselves was, and is, absolutely necessary for us to continue on. Each time, we will try to get closer to the truth, one adjustment at a time.

As I age, it becomes more and more apparent that most of growing up is letting go of everything that isn't you. Distilling down your values into the simplest, most irreducible forms so that they can't be forgotten or confused. One of my values is to accept cognitive dissonance. To lean into the gray, uncomfortable spaces. You know the ones I'm referring to. How can you forgive someone you love who has hurt you? How do you live with gratitude in a world of so much suffering? How do you be yourself in a society that wants to control you? How do you rise after falling again and again? How do you enjoy who you are even though you are told you are not enough?

The universe is a very, very big place. Language, belief systems, and traditions are our attempts to make more sense of it, but ultimately there will be more unknowns than knowns. The challenge, then, is to live with the magic, the discord, and the unexpected without losing our inner sense of truth. To sit quietly with cognitive dissonance and learn from it rather than lashing out against it. To take responsibility for our own minds.

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