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Happy Healthy YOU

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Kelly Spencer - Happy Healthy YOU

(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!)

One of the blessings of living in our country is the freedom of choice.

We are a cultural mosaic with a wide variety of immigrants from a multitude of ethnic groups, languages, countries and cultures that coexist within our young country (which is an old land that was already inhabited with indigenous people before we all migrated here.) As someone that has travelled a fair amount, our multi-culturalism has always been something I have been proud of and along my world wandering, have witnessed the embrace of Canadians for who we are.

We have vast privilege and liberty to choose, to vote, to decide and to have opinions on what it is we believe and resonate with. So why is it so important for so many to scream from the rooftops their belief? More so, why do countless folks feel they have to shout so loud they feel it compellingly necessary to talk the opposition into agreeance with them?

Social media has provided a false security and courage of expression that most would not actually articulate in a face-to-face situation. And while this is talked about in school to teach the younger generation of internet appropriate behavior, I find the adult population misusing this social media platform, to get up on their soapboxes.

Why the need to have such strong conviction for one opinion or the other? And why do we try and talk each other into believing what we believe?

Whether it's politics, international affairs, religion and other highly argumentative controversial debates such as abortion, vaccines and parenting or simply a personal opinion, I have witnessed more and more people assertively and even aggressively persuading others to take on their perspective as their own. Not just an intelligent exchange of information and facts but more so a concluding personal defeat if they can’t talk the opposition into conformity. It makes me question, why is it so difficult to see both sides?

Psychologist Leon Festinger's theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. In psychology, this is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, performs an action that is contradictory to one or more beliefs, ideas or values, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values. Due to the discomfort of having two opposing beliefs, we may be motivated to try and reduce this dissonance and avoid situations that are likely to increase it.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. Confirmation biases contribute to overconfidence in personal beliefs and can maintain or strengthen beliefs in the face of contrary evidence. So even while we may been provided with information that is opposite of our opinion, we refuse to accept it.

Philosopher Dr. Robert T. Carroll, speaks on another social psychology phenomenon called “motivated reasoning.” Carroll states motivated reasoning is confirmation bias taken to the next level. Motivated reasoning leads people to confirm what they already believe, while ignoring contrary data. It drives people to develop elaborate rationalizations to justify holding beliefs that logic and evidence have shown to be wrong. Emotionally driven motivated reasoning responds defensively to contrary evidence, actively discrediting such evidence or its source without logical or evidentiary justification. Carroll says “it seems to be assumed by social scientists that motivated reasoning is driven by a desire to avoid cognitive dissonance. Self-delusion, in other words, feels good, and that's what motivates people to vehemently defend obvious falsehoods.”

So how do we become more tolerant and accepting to opening our map of the world?

Here are a few tips that I have used and continue to practice:

1. Agree to disagree. As a recovering control freak, this isn’t always easy. I want to explain myself more and give all the information I can. But when I recognize that the information is falling on deaf ears, I agree to disagree. Sometimes this is done quietly with a smile, sometimes without. I recently had a man on Facebook comment “left wing bull...” on an article about Muslims I had posted. On his own profile page he had racist slurs and other hate posts. I knew a healthy debate was not to be had and I simply blocked him.

2. Seek to understand different views. I have heard extreme arguments on both sides of the vaccine debate, claiming that if the other person didn’t see their point of view, they would be murdering their families! When you notice that you have tapped into cognitive dissonance or motivated reasoning, stop... take a few deep breaths and try to keep an open mind. Educate yourself to both sides of any debate and even if you hold the same position, seek to understand the perspective in which others are standing.

3. Empathy. Try and imagine what it is like to be in their shoes. Envision yourself from their viewpoint. I overheard someone complaining about the annual debate of having to say “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas.” One person adamantly declared that it had nothing to do with religion, “Christmas is a Canadian thing!” they said with a bite in their words. Someone else calmly pointed out that the word Christ is in the world Christmas and it very much is a religion holiday. Oddly, even with the facts in front of her, the woman’s position was unmovable. What if you were Jewish, Jehovah, Muslim or even atheist? Can we not wish other people well with greetings of having a happy holiday however they celebrate or don’t celebrate?

4. Two truths. Instead of getting sucked in to a recycled argument of who is right, can it not be true that both can exist? “Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year!” may be a very real and true statement for some, while someone that has lost a loved one may find the holiday season to be the most challenging time of the year. The two truths can co-exist.

5. Respect. Be aware if you have stepped into the land of arrogance, stubbornness or fear. Respect others views and choices, while also kindly respecting your own.

We always have a choice, even if that choice is whether we continue discussing our choices. Try and look at the big picture and do what will ultimately make you and your world a happier and healthier place to live in.

Wishing all a Joyful Holiday season.

(If you would like to see an article on a specific topic, please email kelly@indigolounge.ca)

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