Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The five second rule ...

You're starving (not literally, of course, just the American version which means you're simply hungry).

You're in the kitchen making a sandwich. You can hardly contain yourself as you lather on the condiments, pile on the toppings, and finally slap on the top piece of bread.

As you wrestle to wrap your hands around the breadth of the bulging sandwich, lifting it to your salivating mouth, the unthinkable happens ... you drop the sandwich on the kitchen floor!

In utter astonishment, you stare at the sandwich now scattered on the floor.

What to do?

You quickly invoke the "five second rule," scoop up the sandwich, do a quick fix, and take a huge bite as you contentedly move along.

You're satisfied because the five second rule saved the day! You know, the "rule" that says if you drop food, it's still clean if it's not on the ground or floor for more than five seconds.

The five seconds rule is just a mental game to get around the truth that we still want to eat the food, regardless of knowing where its been. But instead of admitting to ourselves that we would eat food dirtied from the ground, we invoke a falsehood (the five seconds rule) to soothe our minds from the reality of our choices.

We counselors call such behavior cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is that uncomfortable feeling of holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory goes that we human beings have a tendency to seek consistency among our cognitions (beliefs, opinions, etc.). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance. In the case of a discrepancy between attitudes and behaviors, it is most likely the attitude will change to accommodate the behavior.

Cognitive dissonance sprang onto the scene of human behavior all the way back in the Garden of Eden, when the first man and woman brought sin into the world. They both knew the clear and specific instructions God had given them, yet they both chose to disobey His instructions. When God visited them in the Garden after their Fall, they made excuses for their behavior being in conflict with what they knew to be the truth.

In other words, negative cognitive dissonance resulted in their making excuses to God for their sin.

Our behaviors haven't varied a lot from that time in the Garden. Like the first man and woman, we continue to struggle with cognitive dissonance in our own lives. But from before that Fall of humanity in the Garden, God had a plan for how we could be made whole from the results of sin in our lives. God worked out His plan through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and through Him we can be changed. Look at what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:21-23:

"21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy."

We overcome the struggle with cognitive dissonance by allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our thoughts and attitudes, which then results in behaviors that are Christlike, "... truly righteous and holy." The Holy Spirit enables and empowers us as transformed children of God to harmonize our thoughts and behaviors rather than feed unhealthy and ungodly conflicts created and fed from our minds.

That doesn't necessarily mean the next time you drop the sandwich that you won't pick it up and eat it anyway. But it should mean you won't lie to yourself about the fact that you're eating food off the floor!

Have you allowed the Holy Spirit to transform your thoughts and attitudes? Or do you justify your way of living through the inconsistencies of cognitive dissonance?


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