By the time of investiture, it is likely that a newly appointed judge believes that their behavior is a result of a carefully orchestrated career path. They have consciously made choices and commitments to reach this position. Judges come to the bench believing they know what to expect, and the more they believe in that paradigm, the less willingness there is to change. This is a common phenomenon called cognitive dissonance. The theory of cognitive dissonance, proposed by Psychologist Leon Festinger, is used to describe the feeling of discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs. When there is a discrepancy between beliefs and behaviors, something must change in order to eliminate or reduce the dissonance. One example of how this may play out in courts is a newly appointed judge’s assumption about the extent of judicial independence, and what he or she may actually experience in a complex judicial system. The more we are committed to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that the opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that shows we may be wrong (Goldsmith, p.24).
At the judge’s investiture, with much fanfare and congratulatory speeches, all eyes are focused on the new judge. The following day he or she could be assigned to hear the most routine and least complicated cases. This assignment may not be how the newly appointed judge expected to put to use the years of legal experience and competence, thus creating the cognitive dissonance. There is frankly no way to have the experience without being in the experience. The same thing can be true for medical doctors. They may have chosen the medical field with the belief that they could spend time with their patients to address the underlying habits and behaviors that aren’t serving the patient well. Instead, they are subject to administrative expectations for time spent with a patient that conflict with their belief and hopes on how best to serve their patients. We all experience dissonance and find ways to reconcile dissonance so that we can make sense out of our experiences. When these paradigms aren’t challenged and aren’t serving us well, especially in organizations, we have to find a way to make it fit consistent with our goals and beliefs. Inconsistency often manifests through blaming system decision-makers and policies, for what isn’t working in our belief system.
Judicial and other professional systems must not only make it acceptable to get help at any point in a professional career; we must deliberately put in place the infrastructure that builds enduring capacity and compassion.Download Article 1K Club