Recently, I have been thinking about a specific cognitive dissonance: Ethical dissonance. Working at a large financial institution (FI) during the financial “crisis” is creating a lot of ethical dissonance for me. Already the fact that I put the crisis in quotes is a symptom of that: On the one hand, the higher ranks in the big FIs have profited greatly from their own disastrous decisions because the public bailed them out. None of the banksters had to give their bonuses or earnings back to right their wrongs. Then on the other, the real crisis is not in the financial services sector – it is amongst all the unemployed and former homeowners. It is amongst the rest of us who didn’t profit from scrupulous financial “innovation.” And that “innovation” continues, together with the profiteering off the backs of the rest of society. So, I think all that – and then I get paid by one of the FIs. Granted it’s not one of the worst (first attempt to minimize the dissonance). And I have to make a living somehow (another one). Plus, I am not working on any of those “innovative” products (piling up the anti-dissonance arguments). But, the bottom line is: I cannot get out of the ethical dissonance. Somehow I know that if all of us who are feeling this dissonance would quit, we could change this society that is so build around the adoration of the size of the paycheck (hmmm, I wonder what that replaced 😉 ). And I also know that to really remove the ethical dissonance, I would have to quit my job. In some ways, though, that feels like self-sabotage but maybe that is just another excuse I conjure up to relieve the dissonance without doing what is right.
Cognitive dissonance is that feeling that we get when we believe something contradictory. It arises – to use the example from a textbook – when you think you should be on a diet but devour a huge bowl of chocolate mousse. You then start justifying your choice to minimize the dissonance.