Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Conflict, Cognitive Dissonance, and Staying True?


You go through journeys of personal growth where you pass through conflict and struggle until you find your equilibrium and feel comfortable where you are at. Finishing my PhD was one of those moments. As I re-wrote my research methodology chapter to highlight my paradigmatic stance of intrpretive/critical research, and as I wrote the conclusion chapter of my thesis where I critiqued my own work and decided that the whole idea of defining critical thinking using skills, etc, was… Not only useless but reinforced a white male Western ideological stance… Those were good moments for me. When I started reading then writing for Hybrid Pedagogy in my own voice, finding space to be critical of my own pedagogy even while striving to implement praxis, and trying to find ways to apply this to faculty development… Those were good times. Doing collaborative autoethnographic research? That felt good and it felt right. So right.

And yet. I read this wonderful reflective piece on critical pedagogy today and I loved it. It reminded me of how I feel and what I believe. As did the entire Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute experience. No. I was not there in Wisconsin-Madison- but the twitter stream (#digped) combined with the virtually connecting meetings we had and now the videos of the keynotes and all that – it all reminded me that some of us can find solace and community in our dissent. We are not alone in the world, even if we feel we are relatively alone in our institutions.

I also remembered, though, that I am involved in two research projects that conflict a bit with my own values. Working with people who are leading these projects who are comfortable with other paradigms and a different worldview, part of me wants to be open-minded and to listen- to try to do something different from what I would have done had I been leading. To learn from others. To not be closed-minded about being open-minded.

And yet of course I drive my colleagues crazy at each turn because I resist every step of the way because I am critical of almost every tiny little detail (or so it seems)

And so the reality is catching up with me that

A. I have a lot of control over my teaching and can continue to apply critical pedagogy and evolve there. Thank God

B. I have a lot of control over my personal research that I lead but cannot always apply it in practice where others are involved. So i am writing a book chapter with a postcolonial perspective on MOOCs but supporting the design of MOOCs at my institution that cannot possibly do everything I think they should (but I am trying)

C. That when working with others on their terms I have to make choices to either stick with it and be a difficult person to work with and learn to somehow listen even while I resist…. Or to leave. I would rather not leacr unless it gets too bad.

I think I am approaching a new stage of maturity. I am just not at equilibrium yet.


  1. Maha, you always amaze me. This piece so beautifully expresses a quandary I often confront. I love how you conclude by separating what you can influence from that which you have to live with. It’s so important to remember the areas in my life where I have free choice, and to focus my efforts on those when I’m feeling frustrated. Timely and wise words, my friend. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for the encouraging response, Andrea. It always helps to know I am not alone and that what I write resonates. See you in a few hours inshallah

  2. Difficult balance I agree. Being true to yourself can turn into an ideology that constantly limits you to what is “right”. And of course you are right because you are reflective and generously willing to let others be “wrong”. But doesn’t this all feel like a scripted acting assignment, a construction or a strategy and not responsive at all?

    A simple form of decidedness imprisons my relationship with the medical system. I’m hurt and am sticking with it. To change to a place where I can act, it’s necessary to tame the reactivity to an approach to being true to the world in order to be of and in it. Is this a betrayal of my values? Or do I hide behind values?

    Do you think we are told to be consistent and reliable, “true-to-ourselves” because it is authentic to be a coherent person? What if it makes us rigid? What if it’s “human” to BE contradictory and available to difference?

    Great posting!

    • I am totally inconsistent as a parent 🙂

      I love your comment Scott because it made me realize how stupid it is to stick to any of my own truths rigidly when i still have so much to learn.

      I still will have issues working w people from a different worldview… Until i figure a way to empathize properly with theirs. I think the problem is when the others devalue ours and it makes us need to stick to our guns against the dominant discourse lest it steamroll over us?

  3. Good point about others dominating the discourse–that’s an imbalance and essentially corrupts the conversation. It could be that the compact with the world doesn’t / can’t include our silence. Nor dose it permit others to silence us because it suits THEM. In an imbalanced situation I think it’s the duty of decision makers to be open to feedback. If they aren’t then you have to balance the risk of confrontation with being open–what will it cost me?

    As for parenting, you’ll never come to a full agreement with a child. Teach them that the world is consistent and predictable they’ll never grow. Maybe you could tell Hoda you are the boss for Wednesday mornings?

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