In her article, Tannen (1998) presents an effective argument that human beings are always engaged in ritual fighting. The article provides several examples to illustrate ritual fighting in political and media institutions. The author succeeds in portraying antagonistic relationships that typify patterns of interaction in a society. Nonetheless, the concept of cognitive dissonance comes out clearly throughout the article. Cognitive dissonance refers to a feeling that people experience because of holding two opposing beliefs (Gawronski & Strack, 2012). In many instances, people make decisions that contravene their values, ideologies and emotional reactions. Consequently, they may feel frustrated, embarrassed, angered and anxious. Tannen (1998) points out that debates and arguments are platforms where feelings of cognitive dissonance become apparent.
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For argument sake, Tannen (1998) postulates that people contravene their beliefs and assume positions that predispose them to cognitive dissonance. The reason is that people enter into arguments with the sole objective of winning. They tend to disagree with the opponents even if they are aware that their arguments are correct. As such, the feeling of cognitive dissonance overwhelms them leading to outbursts and amplified emotional reactions (Cooper, 2007). For instance, Tannen (1998) says that she experienced an incidence of cognitive dissonance during a television show that popularized one of her books. Despite the fact that her critic was well aware that her book was well written, he chose to contradict that belief and criticized the book. The man began to shout at her because of the feeling of discomfort he experienced. This illustration explains how cognitive dissonance may lead to heightened emotional reactions and adversarial tendencies.
According to Cooper (2007), people always attempt to reduce incidences that bring about dissonance. By avoiding dissonance, people develop consistent belief and value systems that determine their reactions and positions on various issues. Tannen (1998) asserts that people always engage in ritual fighting in order to assert their dominance. However, aggression and fights lead to a subjective view of social realities. In other words, debates and arguments upon which social issues are centered tend to limit instead of encouraging information sharing (Gawronski & Strack, 2012). The reason is that dissonance creeps in and prevents people from accepting certain information. This is notwithstanding whether the information is right or wrong. It all depends on the side of argument that the individual belongs. Tannen (1998) points out that journalists may end up invading personal privacy to gain information that will put the subject on extreme position of a particular argument.
Cognitive dissonance is an undesirable feeling that human beings tend to avoid. Tannen (1998) argues that some people opt out of debates. The rationale is that they are more afraid of cognitive dissonance than losing an argument. In all arguments, people have a tendency of ignoring information that does not support their perspectives. As such, disregarding some information leads to conflict of ideas, beliefs, values and social cognition (Gawronski & Strack, 2012). It is therefore important to point out that arguments are typical of outbursts, escalated emotions and inability to have an open mind. Nonetheless, debates and battles are key aspects of contemporary societies where all issues invite antagonistic reactions.
In summary, Tannen (1998) convinces readers that people fight about everything compulsively. Although she pinpoints that debates and arguments are platforms for ritual fighting, cognitive dissonance contributes to aggression expressed in emotions.
Cooper, J. (2007). Cognitive Dissonance: Fifty Years of a Classic Theory. London: Sage Publishers.
Gawronski, B. & Strack, F. (2012). Cognitive Consistency: A Fundamental Principle in Social Cognition. New York: Guilford Press.
Tannen, D. (1998). For Argument’s Sake; Why Do We Feel Compelled to Fight About Everything? Washington Post, p. 1.