Values Important for Healthy Coping

In the 2020 election, President Trump lost the state of Georgia to opponent Joe Biden. During a one-hour phone call on January 2, 2021, President Trump pressured Brad Raffensperger, Georgia Secretary of State, to find 11,780 votes for Trump so he could overturn the election results and win the state of Georgia. Raffensperger, who says he voted for Trump, would not agree to the request. He maintained that Trump had lost Georgia fair and square, and to “find votes” would violate his oath of office.

Raffensperger was obviously experiencing what we would call cognitive dissonance – mental discomfort. The man he voted for lost the election, and a lot of people were claiming the loss was due to election fraud. Furthermore, the President of the United States was asking him to help rectify what he claimed was a fraudulent election outcome. Raffensperger could “find” missing votes for Trump in Georgia, swing the state from Biden to Trump, and reduce his dissonance.

But Raffensperger could also reduce his dissonance by choosing another road. First of all, he could find no evidence of any ballot fraud in Georgia. He was completely confident that Biden had won the state. Furthermore, he had sworn an oath of office as Secretary of State, and that oath carried with it responsibility to act with integrity, honesty, fairness, and honor. Therefore, he could refuse the request to “find votes.” Note that this dissonance-reduction strategy required Raffensperger to act in a way that was consistent with his values.

Raffensperger chose to be true to his values. He told President Trump that he lost the state of Georgia, and there was no way of turning that around. Keep in mind here that, from a psychological perspective, you can rationalize your way out of just about any dilemma; you can reduce dissonance by choosing either a constructive or destructive course of rationalization. Unfortunately, the latter – destructive – choice usually requires hypocrisy, denial, reality distortion, and other ego-protective actions that will maintain your stress levels and hurtful emotions. Destructive choices make effective coping with life challenges difficult and painful.

The coping lesson here is clear: Do the right thing for the right reasons. And what are the right reasons? They are reasons consistent with your values that are based on a social conscience, ethics, morality, and your sense of self-esteem and self-security. The right reasons are those that bring you, not others, feelings of competence and satisfaction as a constructive participant in the human family.

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