The Distance of Cognitive Dissonance


The man sat at my desk with his blunt scissors hair cut reminiscent of a Kennedy, thick and swept to the side in all its thickness. Clear eyes met mine solidly from behind glasses as straight as the crease in his shirt sleeves.

“I think I’d like to do something different, and I’d like some input on that, if you could,” he said.

There was nothing showing on my screen that gave any indication where to begin an exploration like that, except that he had a bit of higher education. I could dig to find out more, but that would break the conversation.

“What was your last position?” I had to start somewhere.

“I was a preacher. I was fired.” My head snapped up to look in his eyes again.

“I was stupid. I had an affair.”

The statement came out without prompting, without hesitation, and without emotion. It was a fact.

“You will have to forgive my bluntness, sir,” I began, and jumped right into discovery. “I was under the impression that to be a preacher comes from a calling of sorts, or a desire to help others, right?”

“Yes, but what else can I do? I have invested a lot in my education, but it is all religious. I have the equivalent of a Bachelor degree, but it’s not quite a real degree. I spent a lot of money and time on this degree, and now it’s worthless. I was thinking factory work. I used to work at _____, but I don’t want to go back there.”

“There are many ways to help others besides religion. You could work at DHS to work with families and children. You could work in a prison (I got a nod here)…”

“I thought about going into law enforcement,” he said.

“…You could counsel or do case work, help adults learn to read…”

“I did have a few counseling courses, but they were religious...”

“It doesn’t matter, you have them, you have the degree and you can probably work for the state in one of the many social service agencies.”

“That’s why I was thinking of becoming a cop. How do I go about that?”

He looks down, then grabs his cell phone out of its holster on his belt. “Damn. She keeps calling all the time.”

“Who?” I couldn’t help asking.

“The woman I had the affair with.” He hit the ignore button and returned the phone to its belt holder. He continued: “So, how do I go about becoming a cop?”

“Lucky for you, the police station is half a block away. Stop in there and ask what you need to do to get into the police academy. All the state job openings are listed online at www…..”

“Great, thank you.  I’ll look there too,” he said, getting up from the chair.

“It’s been a pleasure to meet you, and thank you for being so helpful.” He stuck out his hand to shake mine and headed toward the door.

An elderly woman that works in the office stopped him and the two embraced. I couldn’t make out all the words of their conversation, but I heard her say, “you behave now.”

She came up to my desk. Her speech is not clear, half mumbles, but I picked out the gist of what she was saying.

“It’s sad. You know they are in the process of adopting a child, and I think they are still going through with it,” she said to me.

I couldn’t help it. My eyebrows shot straight up.

“Don’t you know why he was fired?” She shook her head. “He had an affair.” As open as he was about it to me, I thought it was likely that everyone knew. Word travels fast in small towns.

Her eyebrows shot straight up this time.

“He’s lucky he’s not here right now. I’d kill him. I just got done telling him to behave. I’d kill him if he was still here.”

Her back was straight and her eyes were flashing. I believed her.

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