Have you ever heard the term, “cognitive dissonance”? Let me try to explain it in a few words. At a bottom – line level it means that if your worldview is challenged by information that threatens it, you will reject the information rather than let it alter or change your worldview, because of your desire for consistency, continuity, and security in your life.
As I said last week, I want to talk more about Anna Salter’s book on sexual predators – especially pedophiles – because it is so very informative and timely for us in our culture. But in order for you to find practical value in what she says, it is necessary to take a few steps back and examine the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance. Are we willing to believe uncomfortable, even life-altering truths? Most people are not, which is why predators generally operate in complete safety – more about that another time…But now, let’s try to really grapple with the objective realities this meticulous researcher presents. It is not easy.
Number One: Almost 90% of people think they are better than their peers at many-probably most- things. As one of Salter’s caustic subtitles says, “The Average Person is Better Than the Average Person”. This is amusing, of course, but dangerous when translated into misplaced confidence in key areas. To the point here – most of us believe we can detect deception better than we actually can. Salter cites many studies that show even when subjects are told that some people they see on videotape will be lying and others not, they are pretty much in the coin-toss field of accuracy in determining which is which. Professional training in detecting lies makes no appreciable difference. Often, the subjects who were the most confident in their abilities were the least accurate. So, the first paradigm change you need to be able to make to benefit by Salter’s warnings is to truly acknowledge that, by and large, you won’t recognize liars and deceivers for what they are. And sexual predators lie a lot. As a matter of fact, they live a lie. For the purpose of gaining access to your children. It’s the realm of horror, isn’t it? But it is true!
Number Two: Salter says there is an innate tendency in normal, healthy people to, in a sense, also live embracing “lies”. That is, we “distort reality to create a kinder, gentler world than actually exists.” “We live with illusions to make the world less frightening”. In other words, we have a “deep bias toward the positive” with life and people, especially the life and people we know. Is this helpful or unhelpful? It depends on the nature of “true truth”, doesn’t it? How does the Bible present the human heart, the nature of life in this present world? Natural man is “desperately wicked and deceitful above all things.” There are many “natural” men sown in amongst Christians. Even Christians can sin great and terrible sins. Are you willing to believe that rather than something “kinder and gentler” in your neighborhood, in your church? Our call is to be Christians, not humanists- unfortunately, so often our default worldview. (And the biblical doctrine of sin then becomes the “dissonance” we try to evade) We must live on that razor’s edge of being wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
So I guess what I am really asking with all of this is: “ Parents, Grandparents, how will we protect our children if we can not detect liars who want to harm them? And these liars are among us? Especially when we want to deny the essential dangers, and live in “lies” ourselves? Recapping again: Predators want to harm. We want to deny. Just think about that for a few minutes. Quite a double whammy, isn’t it?
And again I want to repeat the the answer is not isolationism or living in terror. You know the maxim, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”? I think constant, open-eyed vigilance is the best solution to protecting our children as best we can- combined with much prayer. And Salter gives great practical advice on meaningful vigilance. I will get to that in a post or two! Thanks for staying with me! Hard stuff!