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Cognitive Dissonance – or just being plain two faced?

What did we talk about before Donald Trump came on the scene? With his comedy partner Nigel alongside him, he has raised a number of philosophical questions, which have deep-seated consequences for equality and which govern the sort of society we want to live in and pass on to our children. Talking about these issues is how we determine our own, and our collective, attitudes and values and creates the norms which govern our behaviour towards each other. It is how we develop the rules and how we know which behaviour is acceptable and what behaviour is not acceptable. We are constantly making small changes to our underpinning norms and values and testing them on each other.

Donald says we must forgive him because his recently reported misogyny sprung from the situation and “It was just locker room talk” which we must understand and find acceptable. In other words, it’s not what you say, but where you say it that’s important. This is where the Cognitive Dissonance comes in.

Cognitive Dissonance: the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time

So it’s possible to have two sets of values. Two sets of language. Two sets of attitudes. One set people may use when they think they might be being watched or overheard; when their behaviour might be reported in some way or they want their listeners to think that they believe in equality, that they are PC or even “Right on”. The other set are reserved for times when they think that they can relax and say what they really think. The unscientific name for this is being two faced. But we all do it to some extent.

Over the years as a full time youth work practitioner, I witnessed some spectacular examples of cognitive dissonance. I remember a candidate for a full time youth workers job, who was just about to go in for his interview, saying to me, a bystander, “Look, I don’t know much about this equal opportunities crap. Can you tell me what to say?” My response is that it’s not just using the right language. You’ve got to understand it. You’ve got to believe in it. Most of all, you’ve got to live it. If you can’t do that, or at least try, then don’t pretend.

We should thank Donald and Nigel for raising these issues. They are important. They are certainly important in our type of work: preparing the next generation to accommodate and celebrate difference and to help replace hatred with respect, tolerance and fairness.

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