Cognitive Dissonance & Michael | Ted Gideonse | TEDxUCIrvine

Cognitive Dissonance & Michael | Ted Gideonse | TEDxUCIrvine


cognitive dissonance is the best thing 

to do is to talk about what combines to 

get there so you have cognitions which 

are thoughts or pieces of knowledge when 

you combine thoughts and pieces of 

knowledge into some sort of paradigmatic 

construction we call it a schema or a 

cognitive schema it's sort of how we 

interpret events how we interpret the 

past how we contemplate the future there 

are all sorts of scheme as we need them 

for everything to interpret every little 

bit of our lives so if I just want to 

talk about two kinds one is the social 

schema a social schema is the schema 

that we use to help us understand our 

relationships with other people whether 

it is a friend whether it is a group of 

people whether it is for me like my 

students or another professor 

there's also self schemas and that's the 

ones where how we interpret who we are 

how we think about the meaning of our 

lives our past our future so one thing 

about the self scheme is that it tends 

to be the strongest schema that we have 

the most stubborn and that is because 

the more often you use a schema the 

stronger gets and we tend to think about 

ourselves a lot we think about how we're 

doing things how we're going from point 

A to point B so one of the things that 

happens when we exist in the world is 

that we can are confronted with things 

that actually don't quite make sense to 

our schemas whether it's our social 

schema or self schema and when that 

happens we have cognitive dissonance so 

cognitive dissonance is exactly sort of 

what it sounds like it's like that it's 

the opposite of harmony it sounds wrong 

it feels wrong usually what there's all 

sorts of definitions my old social 

psychology textbook has described it as 

the feeling of discomfort you get when 

you're doing something and it does not 

make sense within the context of the way 

that you think about yourself usually 

it's something that is negative against 

your positive experience and I'll give 

you an example of how that might work so 

I teach a big huge class on HIV and AIDS 

and the example I use is around an HIV 


so imagine you're the site of a sort of 

person who's highly risk adverse you 

think of yourself is very responsible 

you go to the doctor every six months 

you get tested regularly and you have 

lots of plans for the world you're gonna 

have kids you're gonna travel you have 

you're gonna write three novels you're 

going to live to a hundred well one day 

to your surprise you get an HIV positive 

diagnosis after a test you can imagine 

that would be kind of jarring if you had 

all these thoughts about your life like 

waving her head this doesn't make any 


well people react in different ways so 

when you have cognitive dissonance you 

need to resolve it somehow now how do 

you resolve this dissonance you changed 

the way you think so let's say some 

people might respond well this is 

ridiculous how could this possibly 

happened the test is wrong you've mixed 

me up with someone else 

I demand a you redo the test and just so 

you know if you do get it a test a 

positive test result it's always redone 

but usually you don't have to get angry 

to make that happen you could also do 

what some people do which is just walk 

away and they don't think about it 

anymore they pretend it ever happened 

that is not the best way to do it 

because usually it comes back to haunt 

you particularly with the debilitating 


but we can think of lots of ways that 

people do that with all sorts of 

information some people though take this 

as a pivotal moment in their life this 

is a time where they can reevaluate who 

they are and what they're going to do 

and they can change their their their 

ways their schemas in sort of profound 

ways so you can resolve your cognitive 

dissonance in many ways sometimes they 

are very unhealthy and sometimes they 

can be transformative so keep that in 

mind now let's go to Michael so I met 

Michael when I was 20 he was 19 in 

college he I saw him from far away and 

he has had wavy brown hair that was a 

little long and he was just sticky 

lating wildly he's long and gangly I 

really did think he kind of looked like 

a muppet and as I got to know him that 

sort of wild gesticulation was pretty 

normal because he was always 

so excited about things and he always 

had so much to say about everything he's 

one of those people that had something 

interesting and profound and learned to 

say about just about anything whether it 

was bertolt brecht or Andrew Jackson or 

Weezer it was 1993 and I could you could 

just talk to him about anything he knew 

everything he was incredibly talented he 

was fascinating he was weird in college 

we were friends we weren't incredibly 

close we were friends we did become 

close when he moved to New York and we 

became close particularly on the day 

that he decided to come out to me 

finally I had to thought so but he came 

out to me and we walked around Columbus 

Circle where we both had our first jobs 

and a few months later he moved in with 

me arrival roommates in the Upper West 

Side and that is actually the last 

picture taking that apartment and our 

closing party right before removed was a 

lot of rolling rock there and I still 

wear that shirt 

and we became very very close we were 

each other's wingmen in the gay bars 

downtown we had and this is a picture of 

us and my friend Curtis on that a bar 

called hell which no longer exists and I 

don't have that shirt anymore but I love 

it uh we had a lot of fun this is it was 

the kind of relationship where you knew 

each other incredibly well you could 

talk about anything and because he was 

so brilliant and exciting it was so much 

fun whether it was one o'clock in the 

morning at a bar and he is the first 

person that figured out what actually 

happened at Mulholland Drive he was the 

person who I met every single Tuesday 

afternoon for lunch and we'd walk in 

with our whatever we were reading 

whether it was the New Yorker or the 

newspaper or a novel and we would have 

incredibly fascinating conversations 

about everything we had goofy times 

whether it was the time that we made 

each other late for work because we had 

to stay home and watch the premiere of 

backstreets back on TRL on MTV which we 

did and it was very important to us and 

we had a great timing he was just the 

funniest guy and I always think about 

this pick 

as my favorite picture of him because it 

was it's ridiculous but it's sort of 

beautiful he's chasing ducks this 

picture is from 2015 many years later 

and it's taken the Williamstown Theatre 

Festival at this point he'd become a 

fixture in American theatre while I 

struggled in publishing in New York and 

didn't really have the greatest time he 

became known as a genius he is he was 

one of the most important sort of 

songwriters out there he wrote songs 

that were so inventively weird whether 

it would they were funny or they were 

profound philosophical musings no rhymes 

that no one would ever think to do they 

were funny they made us cry they haunted 

me they made him very famous at the age 

of 31 he won a Lifetime Achievement 

Award he won an Obie Frick for 

continuing excellence when he was 31 by 

this point I had left New York and I 

wouldn't got a PhD but he was the only 

person New York that I really really 

kept up with we talked a lot texted 

emails had lunch lunches together if he 

we were in the same place at the same 

time I always stayed with him when I was 

visiting New York but we had not talked 

for a few months in fact there was just 

a text message a few months before 

September 9th 2017 

when he died of AIDS it was shocking to 

say the least this is how I found out so 

this Facebook post from our friend Adam 

rest in peace Michael Friedman 41 hugely 

gifted composer and thinker an 

unspeakable loss for the theater world 

which is true the shock and the 

confusion and the grief were equal it 

was mind-boggling to me mind-boggling 

partly because I had no idea he was sick 

mind-boggling to me because wait a 

minute how did this guy do this what was 

it what happened turned out that he had 

not been tested for HIV for many many 

years and 

he had been getting sick and didn't 

think that something was wrong or didn't 

say that something was wrong even though 

he had the most the probably the 

best-known a opportunistic infection for 

aged four AIDS which is Kaposi sarcoma 

lesions on his face he existed in a 

world where people knew what that was 

but it just didn't make sense that that 

would was going on and then in July of 

2017 he did finally get diagnosed with 

HIV but it was so advanced he was also 

diagnosed with AIDS and he died two 

months later of a lung infection I 

wasn't the only one to say what on earth 

is happening here what could possibly 

have led this to happen and we I wasn't 

the only one lots of us did it and 

actually ended up the New York Times an 

actual article of everyone asking why 

because when you think about it those of 

you who remember the 80s if 1987 you saw 

a headline that said brilliant 41 year 

old Broadway composer dies of AIDS that 

was common in 1987 in the New York Times 

in 2017 it's bizarre so one of the 

things that drove me crazy a little 

crazy about this article but a lot of 

the questions why were that people were 

saying who dies of AIDS that relief has 

says a lot about the speaker who's 

asking who dies of AIDS in 2017 because 

it really shows well you may not be 

aware of what the world is what's 

happening in the world because in 2017 a 

million people died of AIDS around the 

world that is not because of what we 

imagined it was happening the United 

States but with 6,000 people died of 

AIDS in the United States in 2017 but 

who are those people they're not the 

people that were quoted that were known 

by the people quoted in this article 

they are people that are poor they're 

live in rural areas they aren't white 

tend to be they tend to be someone 

they're far away from an AIDS doctor 

they don't know that the medications can 

be given to them for free they may have 

difficulty taking the medications 

because of an addiction problem or a 

mental health problem or because they 

have what we call in the in the research 

disordered lives it's just really hard 

if you have just a 

confusing life to make all these things 

work so they do die and it was 

frustrating to hear that people felt 

that didn't know and I and they called 

me because well oh right 

Ted he's the guy that you know he became 

an HIV expert and I would say yeah well 

okay this is they're like oh yeah this 

is it's upsetting but it became a little 

bit more confusing because what so 

within that how could that have happened 

what what's going on like why was he so 

I was he like this how he was was he 

deluded was he why didn't he do anything 

how could he not know what was going on 

could he did he not think what was 

happening what's what is it was he had 

he had some motional breakdown we didn't 

know about and well I just taught that 

lecture that I briefly told you at the 

beginning of this talk I just said oh 

it's clearly cognitive dissonance this 

is a guy that was so in denial because 

of a massive amount of dissonance this 

is what he did and I it was both simple 

a simple way of thinking about it but 

also a really upsetting one because to 

imagine the person one of my closest 

friends in the world was so profoundly 

upset by what was going on that was 

there such buzz saw noise emotionally in 

his head of dissonance that he would 

deny what was happening to his body 

it was it was something that disrupted 

his cell schema like who he was who he 

thought he was that he couldn't think 

about it and do it didn't do anything 

but also the social schemas whether it 

was what his family what his friends 

thought even though some of his friends 

were people like me or the AIDS doctor 

that was also very good friends of them 

or pull surprised playwrights who wrote 

about AIDS that he what he wrote music 

for so it just it was so hard to think 

about and I kept asking my friends my 


I read theory I quit going around I was 

like this doesn't really make sense and 

we kept thinking about like well what 

did so-and-so say about what happened 

that one time and he did that thing and 

we realized while he was so 

compartmentalized it was private no one 

actually has all that information and 

then I realized 

I had to stop talking to people about 

this because it wasn't going anywhere we 

were just sort of making up stories to 

help fit to create a narrative to make 

us understand because the real problem 

was that there was no way we were ever 

going to know and to have that 

understanding there was no way to know 

is sort of really upsetting you suddenly 

have to have you have to embrace 

nothingness and Michael had actually 

written a song that sort of fit this 

idea it goes something like by the time 

I left you you know that I was just an 

echo and you never possessed me 

you never possessed me no I didn't know 

we couldn't possess you it was nothing 

that could be done so I had to figure 

out what was I gonna do with the 

cognitive dissonance of grief well 

because what I had done was in trying to 

figure out his cognitive dissonance I 

was actually trying to fix my own 

cognitive dissonance because I had lost 

the schema I had disrupted my own schema 

about him I thought he's gonna be there 

forever until I was a hundred that we 

were gonna have dinners forever I was 

gonna see him when Tony's and pullled 

surprises it was gonna be awesome and 

that was never gonna happen and then I 

realized it was also myself scheme I'd 

devoted my life to ending aids to 

stopping these things from happening and 

happen anyway so one of the things that 

we do around grief if you're religious 

is you have these profound ritualistic 

experiences I've always been jealous of 

people they get to do that not just 

because of heaven but because they have 

a set way of going about doing things 

and it creates rituals accretes rites 

ceremonies a way of going about doing 

things and what those do is they create 

pathways for us to create new schema 

based on things that are actually 

happening right now so when people say 

you'll feel better you go to our funeral 

you will feel better because you're 

developing a new way of thinking that 

actually helps you deal with the world 

when they say go talk to someone whether 

it is a therapist or support group yes 

that'll help because when you talk 

with other people you create new ideas 

you create new thoughts you create new 

schemas I did a lot of writing about it 

I've tried to make meaning about it I 

put him in my class when I talked about 

he's the patron saint of that lecture 

now pictures in my my office with bunch 

of act up posters and I took him to 

Burning Man 

so I go to bring him in every year lots 

people think that it's all one big party 

there's this other part of Burning Man 

this place called the temple and the 

temple is enough sort of an ephemeral 

memorial where every single year people 

go and leave offerings all makeshift 

altars they messages photos and I was 

really dreading it threading bringing 

those things of Michael there because 

that was actually saying goodbye so I 

did it and I posted it with my friend 

Sicily photos but the notes the lyrics 

and she said to me do you think woody 

would have liked Burning Man us to call 

God he would hate it it was ridiculous 

to him it's like but that's it's cuz 

it's about not about him was about me 

figuring out how to do it and I'd asked 

a friend whether or not I was stepping 

on toes doing this and she said well if 

Michael didn't want us to make meaning 

out of his death he should not have died 


and I laughed because there is some 

snark there but also true and it was 

because I had to make some meaning I had 

to figure it out because if Michael 

wasn't there to write the song to explain everything I had to do it myself 

Cognitive dissonance Behavior