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Cognitive Dissonance

How We Approach Our Cognitive Dissonance Has an Impact on Us

A Personal Perspective: Challenging beliefs for the pursuit of truth.

Cognitive dissonance, a psychological concept coined by psychologist Leon Festinger, refers to the state of discomfort or unease that arises when conflicting beliefs, ideas, or values are held simultaneously. When this discomfort sets in, individuals may rationalize their original belief system, ignore the information, or undergo a process of modifying their beliefs and behaviors. The latter, though more challenging, occurs less frequently because we don’t like feeling uncomfortable. To safeguard our worldview, we counter these threats by seeking out perspectives that reinforce it. Recently, I have experienced a significant amount of cognitive dissonance. It has resulted in challenging my preconceived notions.

On the tragic day of October 7, 2023, I woke up to the horrifying news of the atrocities committed by the terrorist group Hamas in Israel. As a Jewish individual, an instant connection formed within me toward the young adults who lost their lives during a music festival, the residents of the Kibbutzim who were killed in front of their children, and the others who were taken hostage. The impact of these horrors continues to live with me.

I grew up with the belief that every individual is put in this world to make it a better place, a concept known as "Tikkun Olam" in Jewish tradition. This idea is deeply ingrained in every aspect of my life. As both a lawyer and psychologist, I have devoted myself to advocating for various causes that require attention and action. One instance: I kneeled on the concrete for seven minutes in solidarity with others, symbolizing the amount of time a police officer placed his knee on George Floyd's neck.

I expected the same colleagues and organizations I had supported to stand by me as I spoke out against the events of October 7. However, to my dismay, those very organizations were nowhere to be found. I felt abandoned, and this left me questioning my beliefs. It was a profound moment of cognitive dissonance, shaking both my body and belief system. In addition to the feelings of hurt and abandonment, I began to reflect on the essence of my convictions.

For the first time, I was afraid to place a flag of Israel on my lawn. I was not alone in my fears as my fellow Jews echoed the same sentiment. What were we afraid of? Hamas was thousands of miles away from us. Ultimately, I proudly placed Israeli flags on my lawn.

Initially, I attempted to rationalize and give my rescuers some time to respond. However, my perspective shifted when presidents of Ivy League colleges said that hate speech—in this case, advocating for the genocide of Jews—depended on the context in which it was expressed. I went from feeling abandoned to feeling betrayed.

As an attorney, I hold the utmost respect for the Constitution, and if colleges choose to use it as their moral guide, they must apply the law impartially to all. It became apparent that certain groups that were identified as the oppressors were granted less protection than those who were identified as the oppressed under the schools' interpretation of the First Amendment.

As I embraced my discomfort, I became more curious and questioned my cognitions. I delved into the unique characteristics of these groups. It was then that I discovered the distinction between groups labeled as the oppressor and the oppressed. The oppressor, commonly associated with causing harm to the oppressed, has gained notoriety due to practices like slavery and misogyny. People of color and women are two groups identified as the oppressed, seeking liberation from those who aim to rescue.

I pondered: Are the Jewish people not the embodiment of the oppressed? Throughout history, we have witnessed numerous instances of persecution, such as the Inquisition, pogroms, the Holocaust, and October 7. These acts of violence against the Jewish community undeniably qualify as oppression. Yet, I find myself wondering, where are the advocates and defenders of justice? Regrettably, the United Nations has remained silent in condemning the atrocities committed against the Israeli people. Even those who I believed would come to their rescue are now tearing down posters of the Israeli hostages.

By sharing this journey of cognitive dissonance, I am not minimizing the innocent bloodshed of the Palestinians who have lost their lives in the crossfire from what has been occurring in the aftermath of October 7, 2023.

Golda Meir, the first Israeli prime minister, astutely remarked, "The world despises a Jew who retaliates, but only embraces us when we are objects of pity." Her words shed light on the complex dynamics that surround the Jewish people. Why does the world harbor animosity toward Jews? Could it be rooted in historical conflicts, where we resisted idolatry and were accused of deicide? Could it be that despite representing less than 2 percent of the population, the Jewish community has demonstrated remarkable resilience, triumphing over repeated attempts to extinguish their spirit, only to rise above adversity and achieve great success?

I pushed harder against my previously held beliefs in search of the truth. Nowadays, where do most people go to find the truth? Social media. As I found myself identifying with those who were outspoken against the current wave of antisemitism, I was directed to follow and identify others whom I had previously dismissed as not to my “liking." Now it seemed that we were on the same side. I became more open to their ideas and found some of their arguments persuasive. My world was being turned upside down.

Although I didn't agree with everything I read, I discovered a newfound openness to learning about different ideas and perspectives. Before October 7, 2023, I believed I had the world all figured out. However, by challenging my beliefs, I've gained a deeper understanding of alternative viewpoints. The understanding and acceptance that other opinions make me better equipped to have a productive dialogue with others that I would have previously shunned or disregarded. Embarking on the quest for truth involves a perpetual examination of our belief system. It is a journey that transcends the notion of reaching a destination; instead, it encompasses the continuous pursuit of understanding.

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