No matter what evidence you show some people about where things are headed in this country, they’ll tell you that everything’s going to be OK and then change the subject. In other words, they’re in denial.
I’ve really been thinking about this a lot lately, because I seem to be seeing lots of examples of people with their heads in the sand to avoid painful realities. I used to be confused about why people did it. It seems insane to deny a painful reality that’s obvious to others, so why do people do it?
I’ve come to a simple conclusion. People stick their heads in the sand and ignore painful truths because they don’t know what to do about the issues. If they admitted to themselves just how bad things were, they would have to seek solutions. But since they don’t see any potential solutions, it’s easier to pretend that reality isn’t what it really is.
Whether it’s about political reality or financial reality or the reality of your personal life, it’s easy to slip into this way of living. It’s not about intelligence or honesty or anything else. I think it’s purely a question of whether someone sees any possibility of change. If change seems possible, it’s psychologically safe to accept reality and deal with it. If change doesn’t seem possible — for whatever reason — into the sand the head goes.
I started thinking about this seriously Thursday night when a friend was telling me about the people in his life — including his mother — who are in denial about political and economic reality in this country. As I thought it about it all day Friday, though, it occurred to me that I know plenty of people in denial about a range of things. I’m sure it even applies to me at times.
If you pretend that very real problems aren’t real, you can keep living your current comfortable life and not worry about where it’s leading. You can pretend your country is stable. You can pretend that prosperity is just around the corner. You can even pretend that you’re happy with your own life (when problems are of a personal nature). I think it’s a result of cognitive dissonance. If you believe that change isn’t possible — or that the change that might fix something is too painful to contemplate — it creates cognitive dissonance from trying to hold two incompatible ideas in your head. So the brain lies to itself and finds ways to ignore reality. It’s a coping mechanism that allows us to survive without going crazy and staying suicidally depressed all the time. But it’s a coping mechanism that can’t last forever.
If you’re under the delusion that you’re not going to be affected when the U.S. economy collapses, you’re in denial. If you’re under the delusion that you’re happy with a life you’ve built for yourself that can’t ever bring you fulfillment, you’re in denial. If you’re under the delusion that you and your family are going to be spared when things start falling apart around you, you’re in denial.
We need to pull our heads out of the sand and force ourselves to face serious questions. If the idea of the collapse of the U.S. economy frightens you, you have to get serious about searching for ways that you can prepare yourself — whether your conclusion is to stay here or go somewhere else. Whatever it is that you’re in denial about — whether it’s political, economic or personal — it’s time to quit living on autopilot and face harsh realities — and make hard choices.
You still have time to confront reality and make a conscious choice about how to change your life — about how to untangle the contradictions that scare you. There will come a time when the choice is no longer yours. I strongly encourage you to take a chance while you still can.
I’m going to start talking more about this in the coming weeks. I’d like to focus less on the ugly realities and more on potential solutions. I hope you’re ready to step in that direction with me.