Cognitive Dissonance

August 1, 2012

What matters in our world is not what we say, but what we do.

Every single day, people around us say and promise things to us. They say they love us. They say that they’re our friends. They say that they believe in us. They say that they support us.

They say that they hate us. They say that they can’t stand us. They say that our work is shoddy and terrible. They say that we bring no value.

However, these words are meaningless. What matters is when these words become inflated with action and when someone actually backs up the things they say with the things they do.

Let’s have a chat about cognitive dissonance and what it means to be a friend, an enemy, a lover, and a fighter.

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Words hold power only so far as we allow them to. I do not mean that you, as an individual Agent, can take power away from the words of others by ignoring them or dismissing them (this is both unethical and, in some cases, impossible). I mean that, as an Agent, you have the capability to grant or rescind power around your own words. It is not the word “love” that means love when you say “I love you”, it is your actions to the person you love afterward. It is not the word “friend” that causes friendship, it is the actions that build up around it that cause friendship. What is meaningful is not what you say to someone but what you do for someone. What matters is not the titles we bestow but the titles we earn.

I, personally, really wish I knew of this when I was dating my first girlfriend. I was an awful kind of person because I tried to take without giving, rather than understanding that it’s a reciprocal relationship. I didn’t understand that one does not simply give love, one proves and offers love. I can’t just thrust my love on someone, I can only offer it and not resist from it being taken. Understanding this now has made my love life much simpler for me, and much easier to manage mentally. However, it’s brought me to a sudden realization about many of the people around me. Since I have come to know that it is not our words that make up who and what we are to those around us, but our actions, I have seen that many of the people around me are awful friends. Lets break down what it means to be friends, what it means to be enemies, and what it means to care at all.

Friends are there for you. That’s kind of the universal message. Friends support you, friends catch you when you fall, friends do what they can. Friends are there to listen, to teach, to learn, to weather life by your side. We use the term “fair-weather friend” to denigrate people who seem to be friends only when you’re riding high, but when the tab comes they’re nowhere to be found. This is not, in my opinion, even friendship. They never were friends in the first place, and it could be discovered through their actions.

Friendship in action is a beautiful thing to see. When you need to get to the hospital, they’re there. When you need to move out of your place tonight, they’re there. When you need to just get away, they’re there. Best of all, they check in and check up on you to make sure they don’t need to do anything. Friends, in this way, constantly prove that they are still friends by staying in touch, by maintaining a conversation, and doing what they can (and when they can’t do anything, commiserating). While that last bit is one we all recognize, the first two are the harder ones. The ones that slip by us without us knowing, especially when life’s hard. Keep those two in mind, however.

Because when it comes to being an enemy, they’re just as important. This is how I best came to understand the borders of friendship. Opposition takes involvement, interaction, and perseverance. Being an enemy takes work. You have to find out your opponent’s weaknesses, you have to be there to exploit every real or imagined victory, and you must perfect ignoring them at the right times and engaging at the right times to heighten the emotional impact of every action. Granted, some people are better or worse enemies (and better or worse friends) because of how much attention they pay to these relationships, but that doesn’t change the base nature of both operating and manipulating these relationships. To be a good enemy, you  must be a counter-friend. An anti-friend.

In this way, by studying good enemies one would also know good friends. This is important.

In my recent experience, friends have an awful habit of sometimes just forgetting you exist. I’ve had my friends group shift a lot as my hand got worse and worse and, in many ways, I’m not going to strive to maintain a friendship with them as my life moves on. While they were there for me when they could understand me, they stopped keeping our conversation alive when my life got too difficult for them to understand. They weren’t fair-weather friends, they just were friends with someone who they thought was me. Someone I wasn’t, but who they wanted me to be. So when I emerged from the problems in my life, they found out that they were never friends with me.

However, among all of the people I know, there has been one magnificent example of both friendship and love. There’s no one that I’ve seen hurt themselves over me so much as my partner, and she’s an amazing person. All of you should strive to emulate her so that you can be amazing partners to the romantic elements in your life.

And no, you don’t have to date me to emulate her. I don’t wish that upon the unwilling. There’s a reason I have an initiation ceremony and everything – once you’re in the cult, you come out wrong. 

So, how to be a good lover in three easy steps. One, always listen to everything ever said ever by your partner. I don’t mean hear it and wait to respond, and I don’t mean listen to the words they’re using, but listen to their tone, their pauses, and their pacing. Over time, you’ll learn the subtle language of their own language, a way of telling you their mood and how they’re feeling. Two, always be mindful and cognizant of the limitations they have and the kind of expectations you might give them. If you talk about makin’ out all the time, for instance, but you’re not makin’ out, it’s going to probably be kind of frustrating. This happens in small conversations all the time, but if there’s a pattern of this happening you just end up with two frustrated people who want to love each other but are constantly aware of what they’re not doing rather than what they are. Before saying and doing things, before talking about things, be mindful of your partner. Think about how they’ll hear what you’re about to say. Three, always find time to be quiet and close. Even the extroverts out there should find time to sit on a hilltop, snuggle in bed, or even just hold each other in a backseat before parting for the night every now and then. Quiet time, unstructured time with each other, lets the ebbs and flows of social interaction congeal and solidify. It lets us be more aware of ourselves and our partners, as part of a system rather than as independent entities, and it gives us the breathing room to be honest and respectful. These are the things that my partner’s given to me (most of the time, we’re not perfect – either of us) and they’re what I’ve learned that love is. It isn’t the I Love You. It’s the actions, it’s the mindfulness, it’s the affection, it’s the dedication.

Love, friendship, enemyship (?), passion – these aren’t adjectives. They’re not titles. They’re verbs. Do them.

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