Guest Post: A Monument to Cognitive Dissonance by Lindsay K. Bandy

I can still see those Sharpie slashes. My middle school librarian had carefully, lovingly, censored out every swear word from every copy of every book in our small, Mennonite school’s library. Today, as I prepare to release my first young adult novel into the world, I imagine the things my former teachers and librarians will Sharpie out. Sure, there are few black-out-worthy words, but the book’s very theme is what will ban it from my former places of education: Learning how to think—not what to think—is the key to freedom. That theme, for me, has been hard-won. It’s turned me into a writer; and it’s turned me into a librarian.

I remember my intense, instilled fear of public school, my constant anxiety about being subject to secular agendas that would test my faith, sow doubt, or infect me with evil. As a young adult, facing cognitive dissonance was a painful and terrifying process, because my gatekeepers did not provide or value access to conflicting information or opinions. I was left to assume that, if I thought or felt differently, I was simply wrong.

Now, as a parent of two daughters, I understand the good and noble desire to protect children. We want them to stay innocent, unaware of the evil lurking in the world, because we don’t want it to ever touch them. But maybe we also want them to continue to see us, their parents, teachers, and librarians, as the people who know where everything goes. The people who can Dewey-Decimal the meaning of life in a jiffy. Maybe the longer we can keep them from asking us uncomfortable questions, the longer we can avoid facing them, ourselves.

I choose to admit that I don’t know all the answers at the cost of falling from goddess-status in the eyes of my children. But this fall leads to miracles, like searching the shelves of the library or the depths of the internet together for information. It leads to discussions about reliable sources, bias, and empathy. It leads to forming and finding answers together, to reflecting on our own biases, and trying to understand why good-hearted people arrive at polar opposite answers to big questions. It blurs the lines between us and them, because there is room in the library for all. (And hey, let’s face it: by the time they hit college, I’ll have fallen from goddess status, anyway.)

Still, it’s a stubborn part of our human nature to simplify. An organizational system is necessary for libraries and brains, and when things feel out of place, we can easily get angry, defensive, fearful, and fiercely dogmatic. Be honest: You know the library-quiet rage that bubbles up in your chest when a co-worker shelves Salt to the Sea in the “R” section for Ruta instead of the “S” section for Sepetys. Who did this abominable thing?!

Creating neat categories, whether for books, politics, religions and cultures, or personalities makes our brains’ jobs easier. It protects us from cognitive dissonance. It provides comfort. And it leads directly to stereotyping, racism, xenophobia, and hate.

As a parent, writer, and librarian, I choose to reject this comfort. I recognize that if every book that crosses my desk or every person in my circle of friends pleases me, confirms my beliefs and reinforces my feeling of being in control, I’m failing.

So, was my Sharpie-loving middle school librarian a failure? No, because she wasn’t a public librarian. She was a well-intentioned, kind person doing her job. Would she call me a failure for doing mine? Probably. And that’s okay, because a public library isn’t a monument to a certain ideology. It’s a monument to the reality—and the beautiful necessity—of cognitive dissonance.

As an author, that’s a monument I hope my books help to build.

Bio:

Lindsay Bandy works as a youth services librarian in Manheim, Pennsylvania. Her first novel for young adults, NEMESIS AND THE SWAN, releases on October 27, 2020 with Blackstone Publishing. She also serves as the Co-Regional Advisor of the Eastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

You can visit her on the website at www.LindsayBandyBooks.com

Or say hi on social media…

Twitter @Lindsay_Bandy

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/LindsayBandyBooks/

Instagram at LindsayFisherBandy

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