The cognitive dissonance of experts

I’ve been spending a lot of time learning about cognition, learning and unlearning because I feel like I’ve spent most of the past 10 years refuting the vast majority of anything sewing, pattern making or industry related that people ask me. Most of the people I’ve spoken with come with a set of beliefs and expectations that they’ve developed over the years and it’s extremely difficult to penetrate beyond this enormously heavy curtain that they leave lying between the window of their social brain and their silent analytical brain. Paradoxically, it’s more difficult to penetrate those who are most experienced, not those who are new. People who are just learning are the easiest to work with because they haven’t invested a lot of time or money into one way of thinking because they’re still sampling the breadth of what’s possible to know. It’s like a big ideas and projects smorgasbord for them and they’re eager to taste it all.

I’ve learned there’s such a thing as “cognitive dissonance”. Cognitive dissonance explains why “experts” through out history have -when confronted with ideas that are either new, or new to them- use negative or reductionist behaviors to refute the challenge to their existing belief system. For example, maybe you’ve heard the news that ulcers are not caused by stress. It’s been proven irrefutably that ulcers are caused by a bacteria and are easily treated with antibiotics. That’s why all of the advertising for over-the-counter ulcer treatments have changed. Now, none of those advertisements ever mention ulcers. These same products now stress relief from gas. The part of the story you may not have heard was that the researcher who figured this out –studied it extensively, did all of the lab research, it was reproducible– spent 10 long YEARS trying to get other researchers to even look at his work. But they wouldn’t even look at it, much less try to reproduce the same results using controlled experiments. Still worse, he was ridiculed.

Now, about cognitve dissonance, experts and sewing. I know something about sewing so I’ve gravitated towards people with the same interests and in some cases there have been discussions and I’ve gone to great lengths to explain the workings and logic of things, just assuming that when confronted with the facts, people will go with reality. Instead, I have been continually surprised by the level of antagonism and rejection I’ve gotten from people. I found that logic or the “correctness” of my answers had nothing to do with it. People’s responses to factual information was governed by emotion which is considered “normal” (it seems abnormal to me but then, I’m autistic). This is cognitive dissonance.

According to Aronson (1996), when people are confronted with opposing beliefs or ones incompatible with their own, they are likely to ignore or negate that belief. They do this in order to convince themselves that they have not behaved foolishly by committing to false beliefs. To assure themselves that they have been wise in supporting their position, they often convince themselves that those who oppose that position are foolish and truly objects for contempt and derision (Aronson, 1996 p.184-8).

Okay, I can deal with the factual existance of an arbitrary, counterproductive, behavioral response and not take it personally but what I want to know is, how can I do something about it and be productive in spite of it? What strategies exist to lower people’s defenses to new information? How can one “get someone to listen”? How can one get another “expert” to advance in their professional development by considering information to which they’d not had previous access? If doctors won’t listen to listen to another doctor, I have few expectations among my own. Still, I’m resilient and I don’t give up. I’m looking for real wisdom so I turn to -a most logical source- Robert Pirsig, author of _The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance_

Pirsig -whilst in the shadow of Phaedrus- was obsessed with this sort of brain-lock. He sought to identify it, explain it and ultimately, to work around it. He stuck this problem in a broad category he called “gumption traps” which I’ve loosely defined here as ways that we manage to mess up our own lives with no assistance from anyone (if you could kick the butt of the person most responsible for the problems in your life, you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a month). He subcategorized cognitive dissonance -an unknown term at the time- as “value rigidity”, a mostly illogical/counterproductive inabiltiy to grow beyond one’s current competence through the dysfunctional deployment of mostly self-denial and similar psychological strategies. These days we’d just call those behaviors civil aggression, passive-aggressive, manipulative, or intentionally undermining another because it’s not enough to refute the ideas…the “expert” also becomes defensive against the person who brings the new ideas. An example of this would be if I were to say that Pirsig’s instruction regarding the method of dismantling subassemblies was “wrong” because the man -obviously- never owned a cat (any cat-owning mechanically inclined person would describe Pirsig’s advice as a deliberately inciteful way to store and display parts cum cat toys). The value of Pirsig’s advice is not measured by something so inconsequential as the differences in our lifestyle choices when the overall strategy is a most productive and effective one. BTW, it’s worth buying the book even if you only read chapters 25 and 26. Just substitute the appropriate sewing term as needed.

The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best — and therefore never scrutinize or question.” -Stephen Jay Gould

Still, well before I became interested in cognitive behaviors, I was challenged by what it was that defined an “expert”. How can one know the expert is an expert if one is not an expert? And also, at which point does someone realize that they are an expert? And lastly, assuming one is an expert, how does one know what they know? How do they know it is “enough”, enough to be an expert? These were questions that bothered me. I’d been looking for experts who could answer the questions I had but that was difficult because it was almost impossible to find someone who even understood what the problems I was describing were. I haven’t found anyone yet. That’s really when I lost faith in experts. Since I’m not an expert, I had a lot of expectations from them. I was disappointed for awhile because I couldn’t find an expert so I thought that just talking about these ideas could be a good strategy because it’d bring new people out of the woodwork -who weren’t famous- and who might have something to add to the debate. If anything, I was hoping their questions would be better than my own.

Then, another cultural change was brewing. Magazines specific to method and process of sewing for enthusiasts became a force. Personalities and products were needed to drive, reinforce and sustain this niche interest largely by less than accurate or scholarly-suspect work. This ‘information’ was printed, disseminated and digested by a willing audience and propogated by leaders who’d similarly “invested” in the information, further reproducing and reinforcing it with their own books. This was disturbing. Just because something is popular or everyone believes it, doesn’t make it true.

For example, it was…mind-bending to read articles written by experts who’d write about how a given designer had a nifty way to sew something and then the expert would explain how you could do it too. The first time I read one of these, I guffawed with laughter, I couldn’t help it! See, on this end, we all know that designers don’t sew, they are the last person you want to ask about how to do something because they don’t know. They’re the ones who come to us (and I don’t care if you don’t believe me, ask any pattern maker, production manager or designer, in any factory anywhere in the world; even Chanel said the only designer she ever knew who could sew or cut a pattern with any competence was Balenciaga). Anyway, the process described in the article was wrong because that’s not how the work was accomplished, not even close. Then, I started to think that maybe the designer (Claude Montana) would sue the magazine (Threads) because the author of the article made the company look like grossly incompetent idiots because it was a really lame, overly labor intensive way to do it -with worse results- than the way that they were really doing it. If somebody wrote an article saying I sewed like that, I’d assume they were deliberately trying to ruin my reputation and make me look like an idiot when a decent sample maker would know better than that-no expert needed. I don’t know why these authors just don’t ask. They don’t, you know. Reading their articles you’d think they were buddy-buddy with the designer but nothing could be farther from the truth. They don’t ask the designer ’cause they’re chicken. And I know that because a designer would take a call like that because it’s interesting, it’s different. They are far more approachable than you know. For example, a lot of famous people are listed in the public phone directory, they don’t have unpublished numbers. It’s just that people assume their numbers are non-published so they never bother to look to call them.

Then I wondered if the article’s author wrote the wrong information on purpose but I couldn’t figure out what the motivation for that was either. It was all so very perplexing. I was certain the magazine would catch the oversight and print the process correction in their next issue but it never happened! Not only that, but they printed even more articles like the one I’d read. I was absolutely s t u n n e d. When I said as much to others (who didn’t know any real life designers) they insisted that designers could sew and then I just began to wonder if I was stuck catty-corner parked into some kind of parallel universe where newtonian physics didn’t apply. In my world, designers didn’t even have sewing machines because they’re mostly afraid of them, so how could do they sew anything when they were too afraid to own a sewing machine? They’re generalists, not technicians and specialists. Usually you can train a designer to do something simple like draw up seam specifications or provide a correct technical sketch if you give them a baseline template with practical examples of each. I doubt that they were just pretending not to know the difference between a zig-zag stitch and an overlock. And it’s not that designers are stupid people for not knowing how to sew because that’s not their job -according to industry standards- not yours. Not only that, a designer would get fired if they did do the sort of things that home sewers expect of them, say, altering a pattern without supervision or oversight. It’s only in the world of homesewing that designers are expected to know how to sew and sew well.

Still, I was willing to assume I’d overlooked the sewing knowledge that was purportedly being hoarded by designers, so I started asking them. When a designer called me, it was on my list of things to ask, as sort of an aside. The responses I got were varied. Some designers laughed out loud and said that’s why they’d hired me, some became a bit defensive and asked if I were trying to “make a point” and still others laughed and said, “I used to think I could sew before I got into this. I just had no idea what there was to know”. In my quest, I did find one designer who could sew as well as I could. And cut her own production-ready patterns (she’d been a production pattern maker at Evan Picone for 13 years). So, I can literally count on one hand, the number of designers that I know or know of, who know enough to write those articles and still have 3 fingers and a thumb left over.

At some point I realized the hobbist press was off on its own parallel-universe tangent and stopped looking for answers there. Back on my end of things, I continued looking. This is when I began to reproduce the drafts or experiments of people who’d written the books. Unfortunately, my results didn’t look anything like theirs so it was back to the drawing board for years. and years and years of drafting the same problem over and over again for the umpteenth time when finally, a silent voice I’d never heard before said, “maybe the book is wrong”. It was a quiet still little voice with nothing to prove and I was absolutely shocked. It changed my life. I feel like I began to catch up quickly then.

I realized -from an indepth survey of available books- that a lot of authors had copied off of each other. That one author (as far as I could tell) made one error which was then reproduced by an author in a subsequent generation. Even tho the book may have illustrated the draft, the pieces would not end up looking like the samples in the book. I started doing quarter scale proofs. I learned the authors merely illustrated the draft but they did not prove it. After years of this, reality sunk in. All bet were off from anyone and anywhere regardless of prominance or preeminance.

And that’s where I am now. While I know enough to know that I don’t know anything, I do know enough to know whether you know anything too because I’m starting to be able to grasp just what it is that I don’t know. So, if you reject me, belittle me, ridicule or humiliate me or use any number of neurotic, unhealthy psychological behaviors, you’re not using science at all; this is a personal-emotional issue for you. Let’s assume you have the facts, if you’re right, you don’t need to get personal about it when you can just as easily prove it. And I hope you are right- because then maybe you’ll help me. I have plenty of questions.

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  1. kathleen says:

    This is a compilation and crude importation of all the comments posted at the original site for this document. Feel free to add your comments.

    2/16/2005 04:05:55 PM Susan said:
    From those psyche classes I took so many years ago, I remember cognitive dissonance as being even a little more twisted than you portray. The classic experiment was to pay student volunteers to do an extremely boring task. One group was paid a pittance; the other a decent amount. The poorly paid works “liked” the job more than the better paid ones; since they couldn’t tell themselves they were doing it for the money they had to find some intrinsic value to the task.

    So the fact that cogitive dissonance even arises in a given situation is in fact “proof” that you are getting though. Otherwise, there would be none. If a person is truely, unquestionably convinced that they are 100% solid correct, there is no need to make up arguments. It is only when that nagging doubt creeps in…

    2/21/2005 02:21:02 PM Eric said:
    I found this post difficult to grasp, mostly because your experience in your industry is so different from what I have come to expect in mine. In my industry (really, a collection of loosely related industries), “experts” only reveal themselves through accomplishment, not through heraldry. Anyone attempting to pass themselves off as an expert would quickly find themselves dismissed or – at the very least – quizzed to death. We expect to be questioned and to be able to either support our beliefs with hard evidence, or to change our beliefs when contrary evidence is presented. It is no loss of face if the team actually learns something in the process.

    I think the hazy origins of the apparel industry may be the source of your difficulties. Surely, you know more about this than I, but it must have started in the home, then proceeded to fall in the domain of craftsmen (and women), and only lately (within the last 250 years) becoming an industrial operation. Even as an industry, there were surely techniques that were passed on through master/apprentice relationships, so the whole thing was kept very close to the vest either for competitive reasons or because of the internal culture. Contrast this with, say, automobile manufacture, where the manufacturing processes were very visibly turned over to engineers early in the industry’s history.

    The difference is that one has an ancient history in which the term “engineer” never formally entered the culture, whereas the other was quickly dominated by engineers. A pattern maker is a hybrid of engineer and draftsman. The engineering discipline requried is not really mechanical, it’s more like a mix of Materials and Industrial Engineering. Pattern making can be every bit as high tech or high concept as automobile manufacture. However, between the closed nature of the industry, and the average person’s belief that it can’t be that complicated since we’ve seen Mom do it, I think most people believe that either there isn’t much to it, or there are hidden secrets to the way big apparel manufacturers produce the results they do.

    Therefore, the ancientness of the apparel industry lends itself to secrecy and mysticism, and therefore may be exploited by anyone claiming to have unlocked these secrets. If it’s not in the open, anyone can lay claim to having the knowledge. Nobody in the industry is likely to come out from behind closed doors to dispute them, and nobody in the general public knows enough about it to dispute them.

    Thomas Szasz has written extensively about the close parallels between drugs (both illegal and prescription) and religion. He points out that doctor/priests serve as the gatekeepers, both protecting you from “bad” drugs and guiding you to “good” ones. They tend to foster a culture of mysticism, using intentionally archaic terms, limiting their ranks by requiring entrants to come up through specific school/monasteries and hazing/internship rituals. As a result, few people believe that they are capable of understanding, much less participating in their own therapy or even their own long term health care. This seems to be pretty much the state of the home sewing industry, where a few annointed experts are able to position themselves as the role of gatekeepers to the secret knowledge of the manufacturers.

  2. Kenneth says:

    I read with interest your comments regarding experts (in particular those who write for Threads Magazine). I am one of those authors, but don’t declare myself an “expert”. That’s something that got stuck to me at some point. When I speak about sewing I will honestly say that there are areas where I know something, and areas where I can make an educated guess, and areas where I’m out of my depth.

    I know what I know, and know that I don’t know everything–learning new things about my craft keeps me interested in what I do, which is one-off evening wear. I design and produce it all myself, so you might count me as one of those designers who knows how to sew and draft patterns. There is a certain vision I want to create, which is more process driven. The best and most efficient way for me to do it is to figure it out, and make it myself. (And no, I don’t call my work “wearable art”.) If you are interested, please look at my web site–I’d be interested in hearing what you think.

    I also feel the frustration about unclear or incorrect information that appears in the literature, and have called Threads on several occasions to comment on articles that were off the mark. One barrier I have encountered when writing for them was the editorial process–they allocate a fixed number of pages for an article, so edit to that length. In my experience, this editing can compromise the information in the service of editing.

    The editors at these magazines are editors, who sew, not professionals such as yourself, who edit. Their concern is producing a magazine, and their decisions are driven by the concerns of their publisher (who doesn’t know a thing about sewing). Sewing is just the subject matter. That’s my best guess as to how incorrect information has gotten into the literature….

    This may be off-topic, but I haven’t owned a TV since the late 1970’s. I will watch if I’m in a hotel, but for the most part I feel the lack of distraction it creates, has given me the time, and clear space, to find my own quirky vision of what I wish to create.

  3. kathleen says:

    You say that you know what you don’t know…then you’ve got a leg up on me! I find it difficult to itemize what it is that I don’t know because if one doesn’t know, how can one know what one does not know? Then, there’s always the topics that one thinks they know but they don’t know that they don’t know. You’re obviously wiser than me because I do not know all that I do not know -and I doubt I ever will- and I think that wisdom could be defined by knowing what one does not know. As Albert Einstein said, (paraphrased) the same thinking that created current problems is insufficient to solve them. Iow, you can’t get there from here, not with today’s tools anyway.

    Regarding your claim that you could be included in the category of designers such as Balenciaga who could cut and sew their own patterns: I think you’ve misinterpreted my comments because I’m speaking of designers who employ a different class of manufacturing -of which Balenciaga was one- rather than custom work. I don’t write about custom or craft manufacturing and have never claimed to. While you may share some innovative ideas and similar highly specialized skills, you’re not producing your designs in any quantity. The standards for reproducibility are more stringent -not less- than that of custom work.There are similar custom designers all over the country and while they may not be as skilled or talented as you, they also make their own patterns and do their own sewing and it is only appropriate that they should continue to do so. I’m not addressing one-offs. Btw, I don’t mean to imply that custom designers in cities across America are on your same level anymore than you intended to imply that you were on the same level as French couturiers. The latter had economies of scale -albeit in some cases limited. You’d think their historical example would forever silence the common belief expressed by many a custom or craft-level designer that their design couldn’t be produced in manufacturing but it doesn’t seem to slow them down any.

    I need to back up a bit: briefly, there are 3 classes of manufacturing. One is described as Craft Manufacturing, then Mass Production (with 2 subtypes, push and pull) and lastly is Lean Manufacturing. Craft manufacturing’s most striking feature is that it’s difficult to gain economies of scale even when reproducing multiple units of one design. Iow, a craft manufacturer has roughly the same costs per unit whether they’ve made one item or ten. We all know that mass production has greater economies of scale but few know anything about Lean manufacturing or its economies of scale. Roughly, the latter is a happy marriage of both craft and mass production. Lean requires the artisanry of highly skilled labor -a continually learning workforce- that is typical of craft manufacturing along with the positive elements of mass manufacturing. Lean is a truly dramatic model in that one could technically be a craft manufacturer but still be able to realize the economies of scale seen in mass production. A designer like Balenciaga did produce multiple units and economies of scale and therefore was by technical definition, a mass manufacturer. When I’m talking about designers, I’m not talking about craft manufacturers but mass or lean manufacturers. The bar for reproducibility is set much higher than with craft so I reiterate my statement that I have only known one designer who was qualified to make her own production patterns. Perhaps you’d be the second but you’d have to produce in quantity before I’d know that. I don’t write about craft manufacturing; it’s not my area. Craft discussion is left to PACC, Threads, Sew News et al.

    The debate among craft manufacturers like custom clothiers has always been a trade-off of quality vs quantity but this is no longer true if it ever was. I feel that craft manufacturers would do well to consider the concept of lean but you can’t get them to Lean if they already know everything or think they know what they don’t know or have errant beliefs about production. I’ve talked to a lot of craft designers and there’s not one among them who doesn’t think that their designs can’t be manufactured but maybe you’re different. That attitude is a form of arrogance if you think about it but their claims notwithstanding, I have yet to see a design they put out that could not be improved upon -while still retaining design integrity- and realizing greater economies of scale. Similarly, were they to attempt to implement Lean concepts, they would necessarily need to learn more precise reproducibility standards in their pattern work which they could easily learn but they’ll never learn it if they don’t know that they don’t know. One production pattern making class would change everything for them. Too bad nobody teaches it in schools.

    Wow, I hear your frustration regarding Threads. It’s pretty scary that a magazine that purportedly publishes unique technical information is itself structurally encumbered by publishing standards that effectively serve to limit or distort the very information they attempt to disseminate. These practices -imo- seem to contradict their public mission. However, the articles I’m talking about have structural deficits from the initial concept through execution; it’s not a matter of a minute detail that’s been compromised by omission or brevity. Rather it’s the opposite. Most of the articles I’m talking about could be shorter and more succinct.

    And I know what you mean by the “expert” label. I’ve had the same problem in the trade press having been described as a “master” pattern maker which I adamantly deny. I consider myself a steward, a caretaker and curator of pattern and sewing information.When I wrote for Apparel Industry, Andree Conrad was great about respecting my wishes. Bobbin -on the other hand- always had to jazz me up somehow. And, I love Kathleen De Marteau to death so if you’re reading this Kathy, I know you know what I mean ;). Btw, Kathleen has a great sense of humor. I once described Bobbin (a requester and usually free publication) in less than glowing terms as “you get what you pay for”. I critique everybody whether I write for them or not.

    Your website shows extraordinary work. Ever think of developing a retail line ;)?

  4. Kenneth says:

    Hello again!

    I appreciate your comments and your point of view. Perhaps it is a stretch that I think I know all of what I don’t know– I think it would be better put to say that I have a list, and it’s a long one, and I’m sure there are things missing that I’m unaware of. I teach around here and there, and find out what I don’t know, when asked questions by students. If I don’t know, I’ll tell them when I don’t know, or when I’m making an educated guess.

    As for thinking that my work can’t be manufactured in multiples, I believe it can. My background is retail, not art, so I don’t have that sort of baggage saying that manufacturing is bad or a sell-out, or somehow dilutes my vision. I recently moved to New York to pursue the next phase of my journey, which is to be known for my particular vision. I understand that part of this is producing in multiples to gain a broader audience. I have made what I call “limited edition” in the past which I’ve sold in boutiques like Maxfield in L.A., but it would still fall into the category of craft manufacturing. One advantage of that, though, for me, was that I could charge a very high price point because of the scarcity of product.

    Thanks for the kind words about my web site–I’m very proud of the work I do, and strive to make things that are different than what’s on the market. One idea that seems to have gone missing, and one that I aspire to, is making women look and feel lovely, and bringing pleasure to them in the form of beautiful things.

    And yes, indeed, I am thinking about a retail line. This is one of the parts of my business plan that I’m working on…

  5. Debbie Soles says:

    Gee isn’t Kenneth the new editor at Threads??:)) I don’t and wouldn’t subscribe to this magazine, but have looked at a couple of the last issues, certainly has confirmed my reasons for never subscribing!

  6. La BellaDonna says:

    Thank you for bringing this up. As a craftswoman who is always interested in learning, it’s frustrated me repeatedly that in the histories of, say, designers such as Dior, and in histories of costuming/costumers for the movies, such as Adrian, there has been virtually no information available on the patternmakers, cutters, fitters, and seamstresses – the people who bring the designs to life. Now, I can’t draw really cool pictures, but I do create, and I’m interested in creating in ways that are more/better/different. I want to know the TECHNICAL MEANS by which these garments, these creations, were brought to life. I don’t need to watch Yves St. Laurent looking at an assistant’s design, saying, “Raise the hem a quarter inch;” I want to know how the shapes are born. I want to know how the creators practice their craft. I don’t know if I’m expressing myself very well; while I appreciate the beauty of what a lot of designers produce/d (and am hemmed in by the books I collect on the subject), I want to know HOW that dress, how that jacket, came to life. I want to know if I’m the only person who had to figure out how to invisibly bone a transparent garment that curved sharply in four directions over a brief span of inches. I want to know other people’s solutions.

    I’m really glad I found your site, Kathleen.

  7. mc says:

    I haven’t read The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance. I have read The Fountainhead and The Prince…

    how can I do something about it and be productive in spite of it?
    Abandon expectations linked to a result/outcome; specifically the result that you seek. You will always be antagonized if you adhere to your current end goal… beacuse you can’t control the people. With any radical or revolutionary idea, there exists a precedence of an acclimation period before it is accepted. RE productivity, what is your benchmark? What are you gauging? Is it a measure of success you are actually referring to? It might be easier if you view productiveness as an end in itself and not a means to an end.

    How can one “get someone to listen”?
    There is a way. Make them love you. They fear you (your ideas), and that hasn’t worked out for you. Seems like bs and a fluff protocol, but if they don’t love your idea, they’re going to have to love YOU so that they will accept your idea.

    What strategies exist to lower people’s defenses to new information?
    It’s called “product packaging” and “promotions”. The internal force requires interpersonal skills and the ability to “handle” (or “maneuver”) people. The external force requires getting to know a few Tooheys. Get The Banner on your side. This will accelerate the acclimation period.

    RE expert questions… I’m not sure if the matter is rhetoric arising from frustration… ? I have no answer that will sate the real issue. There is not really a solution. All I can say is that I have 100% faith in your ideas. Screw the ones that ones that don’t believe, they don’t deserve your ideas. I have a stronger competitive advantage thanks to them, and of course, thanks to you.

  8. Alexis says:

    Thank you, I feel better now! :)

    Since this post is over 4 years old, I’d love know if you’ve gotten any good advice. Best I can say is to keep doing what you are doing. I know whenever I’ve had such confrontations there is always a point when I doubt what I’m saying. This always leads to me analyze my point of view no matter how logical I think it is because that little voice says, “Am I just being stubborn like them, only wanting to make my point?” And once I realize that little voice has more to do with letting me grow than insecurity, I feel better about what I do know and the knowledge I’ve acquired.

    On a more personal note, I enjoyed Threads more when it was first published. How I miss the knitting articles! Now it’s just a sewing magazine…..

  9. Ed T says:

    Hmmm… I admit to buying Threads for fun/laugh…..or strange ideas to try…though now I live in Paris… I’ll have to ask my friends(the petit Mains from Dior HC atelier)…the secrets of their garments…! LOL

  10. Matt C. says:

    I think what you describe in your article is common to all areas of our society, not just the apparel industry. I work in information technology in my day job and I can say it happens just as often there too.

    I think a skill (technical fields) or belief (political/religious fields) is chosen and a social-group is formed to promote or teach the idea. However, as time passes, the idea becomes secondary and the perpetuation and growth of the power of the social-group becomes more important than the idea it was founded for. It doesn’t have to be a formal social-group like a sewing magazine, but can be something as simple as cliques in school or the workplace.

    If you are just interested in the skill of sewing itself, you don’t care about the social intricacies of the group. You are interested in what is best, what is truth, what works in practice – in other words you have a “scientific” view of reality. However, other people are easily caught up in social intrigues and power struggles and are also easily manipulated socially and through marketing.

    It is just that some people perceive reality scientifically and others perceive reality through a social filter. If you are familiar with the difference between ‘objective reality’ and ‘subjective reality’, then I’d like to add a third: ‘social reality’, which is an additional filtering layer in people’s perception. This ‘social reality’ filter is sort of like what you call cognitive dissonance. I think it happens immediately at some part of the brain above the perception of the senses. It happens like this: “I know it is wrong, but so-and-so Expert said to do it this way, so it is right because Expert said it.” (but automatically, in the subconscious or something)

    In other words, I think social training and control can actually cause a person to fail to perceive objective reality. Maybe they are afraid to open their mind to new ideas? I guess this is where cognitive dissonance comes in. Or, even worse, they could actually *know* something is wrong, but continue to do it anyway due to peer pressure.

    I also liked your comment: “maybe the book is wrong”

    I just started realizing that this year, but with a different phrase: “perhaps other people are wrong.” I always assumed before this that if other people were doing things a certain way, they were probably smarter than me, so I should just do it that way too. It turns out though that what is popular is often not what is best!

  11. Debbie says:

    I just discovered your blog a couple of days via Colette Patterns blog, so I have a lot of catching up to do.

    I seem to be a Teacher–a natural Scholar who naturally creates Lessons in conversation.

    (This is no reflection on you, since I don’t know you.) I have learned that I can come across pretty strongly to people in getting my thoughts across. Some of the things I’ve learned in decades of communicating with a wide variety of people has helped me to teach–and learn–better. Gaining people’s trust is very important in communicating critical ideas.

    When I used to “blast” people with my knowledge (and no, I don’t consider myself an expert in anything) and it was something radically different than what they knew to be so, they became defensive. One reason people become defensive is because they perceive that you think they are stupid, arcane or whatever they consider to be a negative. If you can disavow them of that notion (even if you think they are!), you’re a huge step closer to changing their perspective–at least a little–enough to get them to re-think other things as well, eg, the AHAs noted above. I think of it as talking “at” someone v. walking the path of learning BESIDE them and let them know you’re a learner, too.

    Teaching Religion is a perfect example of this and what you talk about above concerning logic v emotional learning/reactions. I found that many students taking my class in fill-in-the-blank Religion ASSUMED I was out to “convert” them to something different than whatever their beliefs were at the time. My goal, instead, was to get them to learn how to think critically about religion in terms of beliefS v. A belief and the best way I found to do that was to gain their trust.

    Just my two cents worth toward the conversation–rather late.

  12. Kathleen says:

    Hi Debbie, I regret it has taken me this long to respond to your much appreciated comment. While I have learned a great deal in the nine years since I wrote this post, your words have been very helpful. In fact, I’ve come back to read it several times since you wrote it. I thank you, sincerely, for the time you spent writing it and of course, your understanding and compassion. I look forward to any further wisdom you are inspired to share with me (and us).

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