Converting Dissonance to Consonance

Psychologists have a name for the below-the-surface rumblings in our mental terrain: "cognitive dissonance." In other words, you may have determined for yourself what actions fall within the acceptable realm as far as a given value or belief is concerned. To be sure, it is important to make these determinations. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a state of emotional disequilibrium--having failed to decide what your values are.

But what if you receive information that upsets what you've come to believe is true or valuable? You are thrown-off balance, so to speak, by the information that runs contrary to the belief system you've established. Your ethical "wholeness" now has a crack in it.

To illustrate, let's assume you have placed a certain individual in the acceptable area on an integrity-spectrum. You have made your judgment based on his or her words and actions. Then you learn this person you regard as someone of high moral character has done something you consider unethical.

You actually have several options available to you in order to change your mental "dissonance" to "consonance." You can refuse to believe the story you are hearing, thus maintaining the image you have of this person. Or, you can relax your standards, perhaps even redefining what integrity means to you, in order to keep this person's behavior within the realm of acceptability. Finally, you could decide to shift your opinion of this individual from the high end of your integrity scale to the lower end. But, resolution of some kind is necessary. Otherwise, you will continue to experience psychological discomfort.

Let's look at another example. If you were asked what core values you abide by, would you be able to express them without hesitation? Many people would find this question a challenging one. Having lived through recent eras such as the Me Generation, the Greed-Is-Good Era, and a Scandal-in-Government era, you may find yourself wondering more than ever before how steady your moral compass really is. When you read that dishonest individuals still maintain the loyalty of their core supporters, you may even wonder if the integrity-component of the leadership personality is as important as you've always thought it was.

Current events force us to grapple with questions just like these. We choose our leaders in part because we believe them to be men and women who act with integrity, which in the eyes of many is an integral aspect of leadership.

When we learn, though, they are alleged to have done things we regard as unethical, perhaps even immoral, we have to make some tough choices. Do we still support such individuals? Do we revamp our opinions of them? Do we widen the borders surrounding appropriate behaviors? Do we remove certain actions from our previous definition, regarding them as unimportant after all? Do we decide that the person can still be an effective/successful leader despite his transgressions, because the economy is strong and/or because the nation is at peace?

The best leaders "know from where they came and where they are going." And, according to an ancient Chinese proverb, the same can be said for God's creatures: "Not the cry, but the flight of the wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow."

As you work to dissonance to consonance, listen not so much to "the cry" (or the tweet), but instead, note the flight or aspiration of those who lead. Resolve the dissonance before you commit yourself to follow the workplace, community, spiritual or political leader.
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