Merriam-Webster defines "dissonance" as “lack of agreement; espe-cially: inconsistency between the beliefs one holds or between one's actions and one's beliefs.”
I’ve been intrigued with the notion of dissonance for a long time, especially in the workplace, where the level of dissonance can be so high as to be almost palpable. Here’s an example of what I mean.
I know of a company that requires all its new hires to sign an agreement not to moonlight. Now, I think there are good reasons a company might not want its employees to moonlight. And, if the company is a service firm, and there is potential for its employees to steal the company’s clients, then I certainly understand an employer being concerned enough to mandate that all offers of employment be conditioned on the individual signing a non-compete agreement, provided the agreement is not overly broad and won’t prevent the individual from making a living should the relationship end. But I was struck by the reasoning behind this particular “no-moonlighting” mandate—a fear that the employees, all experts in their field, might end up spending too much time on their own interests and neglect their employer’s. It sounds reasonable, but it isn’t, because basically the employer is saying, “While at the same time I’m hiring you for your professionalism, maturity, and expertise, I don’t really trust you to manage your time.” Dissonance. The employer also professed to want its employees to have an “entrepreneurial spirit.” Come again? Dissonance.
But what about when dissonance occurs on a more personal level? Let me see if I can’t explain.
Have you ever struggled in a job or in a relationship because how you viewed yourself, that is, what you believed about you and the world, had come smack up against how you were behaving at that job or in that relationship? I have. You know who you are or at the very least who you want to be and that work environment, that friend, or that significant other is a hindrance to your realizing that ideal. I’m not saying that we should blame others when this occurs, because we’ve got to “do the work” (to quote my colleague and friend Helen Richardson) to figure out why we’re feeling so jumbled up and confused or, to put it another way, to figure out what’s creating these feelings of dissonance. And, once we do figure it out (and it’s okay if we need help), then we’ve got some action to take. Sometimes that action involves distancing ourselves from that job, that friend, or that significant other.
As I see it, the opposite of dissonance is contentment, or that feeling of peace (personally I covet the kind that “passes all understanding” Philippians 4:7) where you just know that you are doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, even if (and this is important) people all around you are encouraging you to do the opposite.
As the new year approaches, my wish is that your struggles with dissonance lead to greater contentment that you could have ever dreamed.
(I feel like I should say “Amen, “ here. Would that be over the top? Oh, forget it! Amen—and Happy New Year!)