Cognitive Dissonance


I was at a solstice gathering where a woman overheard someone asking me about a workshop I had done at a Waldorf school on technology and children. She assumed I had gone in to get the school  “up to speed in the 21st century, since we are no longer living in Germany in the 1920’s;” where and when Waldorf had come into existence. And so, even though the workshop focus had been quite the opposite, I decided to listen instead of “setting her straight.”

It seems she loved the Waldorf school for her oldest, but that when it came for her next child, she felt he could not possibly live with the technology “limits” the school recommended. She spoke strongly about the necessity of the school getting with the times. Then, an interesting thing happened; the more she spoke, the more her position changed. She acquiesced that, of course, she recognized the way that it had taken over her own life. She lamented the fact that it made her sad and uneasy to see the way the kids were constantly hunched over their devices. She openly worried about what was happening to the children. And well, yes, maybe there was something to be gained from the Waldorf approach to limiting technology in childhood.

Something significant struck me that day and it can be summed up in two words; cognitive dissonance. In Psychology, the Theory of Cognitive Dissonance holds that human beings seek consistency between reality and their expectations, ideas and beliefs. If we do not experience an internal harmony in this regard, we will do something to reduce the discomfort that this discrepancy causes. One way we reduce the dissonance is to ignore or deny a reality that does not mesh with our beliefs. And there it is. This is why so many of us can see the truth of how the technologies are undermining childhood and at the same time, suppress that knowing. We have come to believe so strongly, for so many reasons, that the technologies are such  a necessity or a vast improvement in their lives, that we are choosing to deny what stands before us. This is how we can see disturbing trends unfolding before us without trying to change anything. We have found a way to promote distraction, disconnection and disengagement as a way of life for our children, and except for an occasional worry or freak out, have found a way to deny what is happening without losing too much sleep over it.

In yoga there is a Sanskrit word called chalana, which means to churn. It is understood that we can be churned by the world and those around us and that we ourselves can engage in practices that intentionally churn us. Through the churning we are melted down and then come back together to a place of greater perspective. An external churning would be the undeniable reality that your 12 year old has cleared your bank account of thousands of dollars to pay for video game charms. It would be very difficult to ignore that reality no matter what your beliefs. An internal churning would be allowing yourself to pay attention to the uneasy feelings that arise regarding your child and the time they spend in front of  a screen. One way or another, we will all churn over what is happening to our kids. Could we not consciously, for their sake, commit to feeling what we are feeling, even when that requires us to challenge and change the beliefs and ideas that we as a culture hold near and dear? Could we not acknowledge the dissonance and be willing to change, just a little, as our gift to them?