Cognitive Dissonance and Upset Commenters
Somewhat less polished article than usual today... my computer's in the shop, so I'm having to put things together on a rather dated machine instead of my usual one.
A reader wrote in to give me a tongue lashing for being insecure, brainwashing men, and leading people astray - away from loving themselves, their soul mates, and God. Here's what he had to say:
So I used to be on this site until I realized a few things. Firstly, you're a very insecure man who is brainwashing men into learning a 'skill' which they should not be learning. I believe there is a God-given person for anyone, and regardless of whether or not you think that is 'feel good nonsense' is up to you. A girl left you and because of that you felt like you needed to change. Ever think that maybe she just wasn't right for you? Ever think that you could find a girl who likes you for who you are, but you just got to be patient? Ever think that it's okay to be yourself and to want to be efficient and get things done fast only if you want to? Your website is based on complex logic-based ideological nonsense that appeals to vulnerable young and old men who have typically been through hard times with women and are looking for a solution. Sure you can learn how to make money, get the best body, etc.; we live in a progress-based society. On the other hand, when you are trying to teach people a skill, which is not yours or anyone else's right to teach, then that's crossing the line. Deep down, you know it's wrong, and despite the fact that it works (I can vouch for that), it's morally wrong. You don't need to sleep with women for them to stick around. Most of them will stick around, and you're right about that, but really think about what's the point of doing that. If a girl is meant for YOU then she will like YOU for the nerdy, efficient, intelligent, socially awkward person that you naturally are. SIMPLE. Chase, please give your head a shake, bro. I know what you're saying is true and works, I know if you get the girl to pay it works, I know chase frames work, etc. Please just take a moment and think 'Why would I want a girl who doesn't like me for who I am?' Don't fight your core self, try to change your voice, and who you are. Do it if you want, but the girl you end up with will like you for you. Marriage may not be a big deal to you, but it is a God-given way for 2 people who love each other to demonstrate that; you're just taking a completely logic-based approach, which is one that society tries to conform us into due to its progress-based nature, but if you know what's good for you, you'll take a moment and seriously rethink what you are doing, and get your insecurities sorted out, because you have some serious work to do my friend :).
All the best,
I have a pretty good idea who this individual is, because he routinely comes on here leaving similar comments. If it's the person I think, he's a guy who was very religious, then decided he was going to learn how to be good with girls, then, before he could actually get any experience with women, decided that being good with girls was morally reprehensible and that he should go back to being very religious again. I've nothing against religious people personally, but flip-flopping is just annoying.
If there's a God, He's probably pretty annoyed with it too. God and I are both annoyed.
I'd take the time to respond point-by-point here - except I've already done that, in this article from two years ago: "Just Be Yourself: The Worst Dating Advice Known to Man." If you're curious about my response to the line of reasoning espoused in the above comment, just read that article - I wrote it specifically so I wouldn't have to keep repeating myself every time somebody decides to challenge why anyone needs to bother with self-improvement, dating advice, treating yourself as your own greatest project and investment, etc.
And the morality issue - "You know it's wrong to teach men about women!" - has been previously addressed here: "Is Seduction Wrong?"
(also worth adding, for clarity's sake - I started improving myself with women when I had almost zero prior success with women and was alone and friendless, not because a girl "had left me," although this does seem to be a common origin story for men in the dating advice niche; and I score 35% on OkCupid's "How Insecure Are You, Really... Test," which you can draw your own conclusions about)
Anyway, what I'm actually primarily interested in discussing here is the emotional reaction - why do people get upset and feel like they need to go on a crusade to silence you when they know you don't think as they do?
Why is it about other people's ideas that make them so... frightening? I mean, they're just ideas... right?
The Drive to Stamp Out Dissent
People don't like it when other ideas that clash with their ideas begin to gain prominence. It's frequently perceived as a threat - as if, somehow, these new ideas will pollute the world, stamping out a purer, better way of life that was there before.
Even the tolerant are intolerant. Just have a look at modern "progressives"... those who want "tolerance" of all views, beliefs, and ways of life... all the way up to the point of being completely intolerant of anyone even moderately intolerant or unpermissive.
I'll include myself here. I believe strongly in not judging others if you want to lead an even moderately worthwhile life... and then I get really annoyed when people start wagging their fingers and judging.
You see this most vehemently of all with religious folks - the Catholic Inquisition, or the radicalized Christian and Islamic fundamentalists today. You also see it a great deal with people who really care about an adopted cause, or what they deem to be their purpose in life, whatever that cause or purpose may be - e.g., conservative political beliefs versus liberal political beliefs; pro-abortion vs. anti-abortion; people who believe mankind is responsible for global warming, people who don't, and people who don't think global warming is even a real phenomenon in the first place. People who believe in nuclear power; people who think it's a scourge. Anyone with a flag to carry or a cross to bear.
But everybody does this to some extent... sooner or later, everybody tries to silence or slam down on the opposition.
Where does this drive to stamp out dissent come from?
All on the Same Page
When examining human behavior within a social context, I find it helpful - upon encountering a behavior that seems unnecessary or unusual - to examine other social aggregations of separate but interconnected organisms.
Some of the examples that spring to mind here are ant colonies, and the human brain.
In an ant colony, pretty much everybody is on the same page. Workers dig the nest, keep it clean of debris and waste, gather food, and tend to the larvae; soldiers guard the nest and battle invaders; queens lay eggs and produce new workers, soldiers, and queens for new colonies. Males are mostly used for mating, and soon die... males don't have much of a role in the ant world. Every now and again, however, somebody gets ideas; an ant worker decides that SHE wants to lay eggs, TOO.
The other ants don't try to convince her she's wrong, and lead her back to the light. They don't tolerate her doing her own thing, either.
Instead, they just kill her, and kill all her young.
In the human brain, there's a normally very efficient way of dealing with ideas, as well. The brain doesn't usually hold competing ideas long; ideas are most of the time quickly considered, explored to see if they match up with existing ideas (or strongly overrule them), and discarded if not.
That's because the brain doesn't work quite right if all of its neurons aren't all on the same page.
However, this DOES sometimes happen, that competing ideas reside within the same brain - and the phenomenon is known as cognitive dissonance.
What happens when the brain experiences cognitive dissonance? What occurs when it holds two competing beliefs, both of which seem to make sense, and neither of which it's fully able to discredit or dismiss?
It gets frustrated, irritated, upset, and angry.
People tend to avoid situations that lead to the creation of dissonance - they don't want to deal with competing ideas that make sense to at least some degree.
Someone reading this site, for instance, probably doesn't also spend much time on:
A radical feminist website (not necessarily in the sense of "equal rights" for women, but more in the sense of "men are the enemy - burn the patriarchy!")
A radical fundamentalist religious website (in the sense of "sex is bad" "all non-believers will burn in Hades for all eternity")
A really wildly homosexual website (then again, I've been told we have a few gay readers... there are exceptions to everything)
Likewise, readers of those sites usually won't come here, or go to one of the other kinds of sites on those lists. The ideas espoused at each are just too different, and don't usually line up well within the same brain.
Cognitive dissonance is the driving force behind the polarization of reading on the Internet - liberals read liberal point of view articles, conservatives read conservative point of view articles, religious read religious point of view articles, non-religious read non-religious point of view articles, feminists read feminist point of view articles, non-feminists read non-feminist point of view articles.
People stay away from things they don't agree with because it forces the mind to do extra work and consider view points it doesn't agree with but can't immediately dismiss.
I'd guess that when you read that comment from that reader above, if you largely agree with the material on this site, it got you a little bit upset. "Learning to be good with women isn't WRONG!" you may have thought, or, "We each have a God-given soul mate - is this guy 10 years old?" or maybe even, "Oh come on, thinking that you need to improve yourself doesn't make you insecure!"
But if you got even an ounce upset, that means there's at least SOME part of your brain - no matter how small - that read that and thought, "Hmm - maybe this guy has a point."
And the natural human response to that kind of dissent was the emotion you felt reading that comment - or the emotion that commenter felt reading this site.
Your brain - and everybody else's - wants all your thoughts and feelings to be on the same page - and it wants to silence anything out there that is challenging them not to be, in order to reduce doubt, reduce mental load, and increase in-group cohesion.
“According to Festinger, people engage in a process he termed "dissonance reduction", which can be achieved in one of three ways: lowering the importance of one of the discordant factors, adding consonant elements, or changing one of the dissonant factors. This bias sheds light on otherwise puzzling, irrational, and even destructive behavior.”
There are three (3) ways people deal with cognitive dissonance - encountering things that do not match up with what they think or believe:
Devaluation ("I don't like/need/care about that thing/person anyway")
Adding consonance ("Sure, that's true, when XYZ is the case")
Changing a dissonant factor (silencing the opposition or getting them to change their tune)
If you want to see #1, just look at any girl who's gone into auto-rejection with you because you moved too slow or weren't warm enough or attainable enough toward her. There are also elements of #1 in our commenter's comment - by dismissing me as "insecure," he's able to safely write off everything I have to say as a vain attempt to make up for this and feel better pushing it out of his mind.
Our commenter above also uses some #2 - "Sure, these things work, but they get you the wrong women for you." In this way, he's able to make some peace with the conflict between his belief that you can do nothing and things will eventually just be given to you, and what he's read here that you are 100% responsible for what you bring into your life, and if you do nothing, you'll get nothing.
(as a former religious person myself, I think it's worth pointing out that most religious people do not share this view - the saying is "God helps him who helps himself," not, "God helps him who sits on his behind and keeps asking God for help while writing off those people who offer to help him help himself" - in fact, there's a parable about this - a man asks God for help, and has people keep coming by offering him things that will help him get what he wants, but he keeps telling them, "Not now, I'm waiting to hear back from God!" Later he dies, never having gotten what he wanted, and he asks God, "Why didn't you answer my prayers, Lord?" and God says, "I kept sending you help and you kept turning it away, you big dummy!")
Finally, he turns to #3 - change the cause of the dissonance - and asks me to become more secure, stop trying to bring the things I want into my life (the "insecure way"), and instead trust in the Lord to provide and know that we are all perfect, just the way we are.
This is dissonance resolution - it's an attempt at reducing cognitive dissonance by writing off, excepting out, or stopping the cause of the dissonance.
And every time you start talking and somebody else vehemently disagrees, expect to run into it.
So What Can You Do with Upset People Who Want to Silence You?
The best thing, I've found, usually, is just ignore them. Usually they go away.
When people are accusing you, pointing fingers at you, upset, and you're calm, emotionless, and composed, they usually will start to feel embarrassed, and realize they've overreacted.
Assuming, of course, that you're able to maintain YOUR composure, staying calm, not trying to explain too much, and just staring at them like they're insane seems to often do the trick.
If it's in front of a crowd, as discussed in the article on moral superiority, you probably need to challenge them back on the same grounds, especially if the crowd is potentially very hostile. For instance, if that commenter above calls me and leaves me a voicemail saying that, there's probably no reason to bother responding. But if he says that to me in front of a crowd of whipped up religious fundamentalists who think I'm the son of Satan, I'd better respond with a moral whitewashing of him and his position, or I may end up lynched.
When you notice your OWN self doing this though, I encourage you to stop before you go nuts. Recognize it's an emotional reaction to two positions your brain is in various stages of openness to.
And instead of responding emotionally, follow this process:
The instant you recognize you're about to belt out some emotional reaction, take a step back
Write down your initial, emotional response on a piece of paper or a word processor document on your computer. But don't send it, submit it, or publish it
Now, go take a break. Chill out. Play a video game. Talk to a friend. Have some ice cream. Talk to pretty girls
Once you've regained your composure, come back and take a look at what you wrote down when you were emotional. Now it probably seems funny and mildly embarrassing, doesn't it? Glad you didn't put it out there into the world, aren't you? Whoops, THAT would've made you look like a rube!
Now re-write your position, stated calmly and in matter-of-fact language. Much more compelling a case you've just made, isn't it?
You can do this in-person, too - when things get too heated, tell the other person, "This is getting heated, and I don't want to say something I don't mean because it's emotional. So let's adjourn for now, and we can come back and pick this up again a little later." Then go write down your thoughts and cool off.
The main purpose of this? Getting the emotion out so you can think clearly again.
You may even realize that the person has a point, or that there was a lack of clarity in your communication that caused this other person to misread your position or misinterpret it. Maybe you realize this is someone who sees the world in black and white, and if you aren't totally in alignment with him then you're a completely bad person, and you're actually arguing different points - you're trying to convince him to slightly tweak his views, and he's trying to tell you you need to be totally aligned with what he thinks is right or else you're bad people.
I've had arguments with people that have gone on for weeks or months, until I finally took a step back, put my thoughts down on paper, and realized, "This argument will NEVER be resolved, because he sees things this way, and has a perfectly valid reason for it, and I see things that other way, and to me of course my reasons are perfectly valid as well." So I'll talk to the person and tell him we need to just drop it, or cut contact if we can't do that.
What About When People...?
Start labeling you (as insecure, brainwashing, a bad person, etc.)?
My suggestions are, fight back or ignore them / get away in the moment, and when you're calmer later consider whether they have a point.
Some criticism is nothing but the criticizer trying to make himself feel better by tearing you down or dismissing your point of view, but there can be kernels of truth in there, too.
For instance, the commenter at the start of this article accuses me of "brainwashing" - a girl accused me of this just the other day. First time in my life I'm accused of brainwashing, and it happens twice within a few days. What this tells me is I'm probably more openly challenging people's deeply held and cherished beliefs - "brainwashing" implies some kind of strong threat to the core of a person's identity. In both cases - this girl, and our commenter - the charge seems to revolve around my dismissal of the idea of an everlasting, perfect marital covenant.
They want to believe that perfect wedded bliss is promised, nay, it's destiny for them - while I say, you may get married for life, but it probably won't be like the Disney movies are and nothing is certain - it may come to an end someday.
I think that's where it comes from. They're so used to everyone else around them giving them the easy answer: "Why yes, of COURSE you'll have blissful happiness throughout your entire life! Just as soon as you turn 30 and marry your soul mate!"
You get pampered with little white lies your entire life, and then someone comes and rips you out of the Matrix and all you want is to get plugged back in again and forget that ever happened... and to hell if it isn't real.
Parting Thoughts on Cognitive Dissonance
It's a sort of weird, funny relic of the brain that people get upset about ideas different than theirs. This has been shown to occur in other primates, and I'd imagine other mammals, too - it's not just a human thing.
I suppose it makes sense. You build this entire mental model of how something's supposed to work in your head, and along comes someone else who tells you you've got it all wrong, and actually water flows uphill, not down.
And this does not compute.
But telling the other person to silence himself doesn't give you better information. It doesn't help you paint a more accurate picture of the world.
All it does is quiet the doubt inside your mind by shutting up the cause of that dissent. It no more helps your thought process than a leaky roof is fixed by the rain stopping. The hole's still there... it's just not leaking right now because the rain's turned off. You can't keep it off forever, though.
So when you encounter something you disagree with, that seems a little jarring or upsetting, I recommend that you follow the process from above - step back, write down your thoughts, take a break, and examine them again later.
You may just find the nuggets of information in there you need to think a little better - and be a little less affected by those who don't see quite eye to eye to you the next time around.
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