Let me start with a disclaimer! I haven’t fully thought all of this through, so I am hoping for some discussion around this idea to clarify my ideas. As is my habit, I might sound more confident than I really am… So, feel free to ask questions or point out holes! I might even agree with you 😉
We live in a culture that creates a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance in us. Cognitive dissonance happens when an individual
holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.
I believe that I have certain privileges because I am white. It is impossible for me, though, to live outside of those privileges. For example, I cannot avoid driving while white. I cannot even fully understand what it must be like to live as a person without white privilege in this society. While I can read about it, I do not have experienced it myself. So, the believe that I am a good person because I am aware of my privilege is contradicted by the belief that I am advantaged because of that privilege in ways I should not be.
I believe that everyone has to do as much as they possibly can to reduce our impact on global climate disruption. And yet I fly to Europe almost every year knowing that flying is contributing to my carbon footprint in far bigger ways than I am lessening by not having a car (in other words, not having a car does not offset my usage of air travel).
I am sure there are plenty of other examples, however I want to take this last one and flesh it out a bit more as there is something in it that I understood today around the ethos individual responsibility.
As I have recently learned through a thought-provoking workshop, yoga, at least in the US, is being morphed into something else by the predominance of neoliberal individualistic ideas (see this article for an elaboration on this idea or this article that shows just how pervasive this infiltration of these individualistic ideas are that a journalist doesn’t even see the corporate absorption of mindfulness when supposedly rebutting that very critique). Basically, we learn that yoga helps us as individuals to become the kind of people we want to be, a task that we have been culturally perscribed – completely ignoring the systemic constraints put upon us by our culture!
We can abstract this mechanism to explain the current cultural narrative for dissolving cognitive dissonance: We are to come up with individual solutions to systemic problems. Let’s return to the air travel example: I am supposed to dissolve this by not traveling via air – instead of demanding the development of long distance transportation that’s sustainable, which of course would be much more complicated. That might also explain why resorting to individual solutions is so attractive: They seem simpler (although in the end, they aren’t really effective). And yet, they tend to invoke the fundamental attribution error: Giving an individual way more control over a situation than we actually have and dismissing the influence of the situation itself. (Of course, we have control over certain aspects and yet our control tends to be more limited – usually to how we react to a situation…)
All of this is particularly relevant to me for two reasons: Integrity and cultural trauma theory.
Integrity is one of my highest value: I want my actions to be consistent with my other values (making integrity a meta-value). This, as you can see when comparing it to the definition of cognitive dissonance, opens me up to the pain of that dissonance! I uncovered that I am holding onto the belief that “I am a failure if I cannot live in full integrity.” For example, I have trouble offering life design because I know I might be overpromising, especially after having reviewed some of the claims from positive psychology. I have yet to reconcile my use of trauma-sensitive yoga with my scientific literacy (the scientific evidence that TSY actually does what it’s claimed to do is preliminary at best…). Even with Project 3Ts, I am struggling because I realize how many positive psychology ideas are influencing it. Plus, no matter how it goes, it will only be anecdotal evidence. So, how will I be able to turn what I’ll find into offerings (other than offering the stories, of course) while staying in integrity? I long to help people heal from our trauma! And yet, I gotta eat – and that costs money and I cannot seem to figure out a way to earn money in a way that allows me to remain in full integrity. Every attempt I make will likely not be as fundamental and radical as it ought to be because changing the system is too big of a task (and no, believing that the system changes by changing individuals is not a solution as the influence of individualism on yoga shows: Yoga is being absorbed into a consumerist, capitalist system not undermining it…)
Then I step back and realize this belief is based on the fundamental attribution error: Blaming myself for something that is situational! We cannot live in full integrity in a culture that makes that impossible! The ultimate cultural trauma might just be that we are taught that we can, perpetually causing cognitive dissonance in us (belief 1: Reality is a certain way; belief 2: I have the power to change that reality)! The cultural norm of individualism is wounding us because we cannot find individual solutions to systemic problems and thus are always out of integrity, which can be painful for many of us. I have not figured out how to deal with this in a way I feel comfortable. And I am not even sure if this all makes sense to others. So what do you think? Am I onto something here? Is that something you experience, too? If so, how do you deal with it? I suspect I will need to learn to live with being in less integrity than I desire… And that, too, I don’t quite yet know how to do…