People are notoriously bad a dealing with cognitive dissonance. Some will do almost anything to avoid it. They tell themselves they use evidence to make rational decisions and move forward from there, but more often than not they’re taking decisions already made and working backward to rationalize them — in spite of new evidence that arises.
We’re all susceptible to falling into this trap. Cognitive dissonance might make you feel uncomfortable, but that discomfort serves a valuable purpose.
In music, dissonance might sound wrong, but it, too, serves a purpose. It works to create tension, motion, and eventual resolution.
Cognitive dissonance does the same. It signals a learning opportunity and provides the motivation to take advantage. If not avoided, it gives us the opportunity to learn and develop new ideas and refined opinions.
The problem is, too many shut down in the face of a challenge.
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
– Carl Sagan
That “almost” is contingent upon a person’s willingness to deal with discomfort. The last person to see the con is the person being conned — because they have the most discomfort to face. But growth doesn’t come through comfort. The longer a person fails to step up the the challenge and face cognitive dissonance, the more blind they become to the reality that their decisions are not rational at all, but rationalized for the sake of comfort.