Water on the brain: the discomfort of cognitive dissonance

Improve International

By Susan Davis, Executive Director

Are you working on international development? Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable? This might sound a bit like a commercial for Alka Seltzer, but really it’s about cognitive dissonance. This is the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time (Changingminds.org).

Maybe it's cognitive dissonance? Maybe it’s cognitive dissonance?

If, when confronted about the way you work, you’ve ever explained it by saying, “Well, that’s the way I’ve always done it,” you may be suffering from cognitive dissonance.

In the water sector, there seem to be several conflicting yet strongly held beliefs and actions:

  • Belief: Water is a human right, and those of us with plenty of access to it don’t think twice about why we have it. Conflicting action: We feel obligated to justify to donors “why water” is important (see examples here

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