Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling that arises when people hold opposing viewpoints or beliefs.

Have you ever felt this way? If so, how did you deal with it? Most people deal with cognitive dissonance in one of two ways. One approach is to change views and beliefs to bring them into harmony. This may be called the healthy approach because it prompts an analysis of salient issues and personal values. Analysis may produce new insights on important issues, and assessment of personal principles may increase self-awareness of embraced values.

The second approach to coping with cognitive dissonance involves what are called defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are psychological coping strategies that hide or mask the underlying problem. Defense mechanisms are undesirable because they prevent people from dealing with and resolving the source of the mental discomfort. Common defense mechanisms for coping with cognitive dissonance include blaming, justifying, and denying. So, in other words, people experiencing cognitive dissonance may try to blame others for their opposing beliefs or for feelings of discomfort, try to rationalize their opposing viewpoints, or deny that their viewpoints are in opposition or that they produce discomfort. 

The other day while driving through the streets of Salt Lake City, I noticed two interesting bumper stickers on the same car. One sticker read “Protect Wildlife”. The other was a pro Planned Parenthood bumper sticker. I thought about those two stickers for a few seconds and then realized that they convey somewhat opposing ideas.

Planned Parenthood is a pro-choice and pro-abortion organization, particularly when it comes to resorting to abortion as a form of selective birth control. Planned Parenthood advocates killing human fetuses when pregnancies are unwanted. Then there is the Protect Wildlife sticker which advocates going to great lengths to protect animal species, such as denying residential, commercial, or needed infrastructural development permits to protect a small animal. 

Hmm? Is it okay to kill a human fetus but not okay to kill an endangered rodent? Is it okay to kill a human fetus but not okay to disrupt the nesting grounds of an endangered bird? 

I am not saying that we shouldn’t protect wildlife. (Please, no comments on how we need to be good stewards of the earth. I am on board with that message.) This post is about thinking that it is okay to end a human life while thinking that it is not okay to kill an animal.

How do more liberal leaning folks who embrace these opposing viewpoints deal with the inherent conflict? My guess is that most resort to defense mechanisms - approach #2 above. They either deny that there is a conflict; blame conservatives for messing up the world; or attempt to rationalize their opposing viewpoints by saying things like “It is more important to protect a woman’s choice than it is to protect a human life” or that “A fetus does not have a right to life until it is born.”

A thoughtful analysis (a’la approach #1 above) will reveal that these two viewpoints are disharmonious and that one should be dropped, preferably the Planned Parenthood viewpoint.

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