Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cognitive Dissonance

     We had an earthquake yesterday.  It was weird.  It was disorienting.  I was sitting at my desk on the 8th floor and felt a slight shake at first.  This has actually happened before because of the construction going on all around us.  Therefore, I kind of thought that's what was happening.  I assumed there was a construction accident.  I stood up and looked out the window, and then the shaking got worse.  "Umm, that's weird, right?"  A few coworkers came to the window to look for the cause as well. 
     As I looked around the office and saw the entire building shaking quite violently, I thought "This is probably what an earthquake would be like."  I also thought "You're in DC.  There are no earthquakes here."  And that's when cognitive dissonance happened.
     There have been a lot of news stories about how unprepared we all were and how we didn't behave correctly.  True.  I know I've seen all the earthquake procedure movies and I did not do one thing they tell you do in those.  I stood up and got closer to the window.  I think that's the opposite of what you should do.  But I wasn't really accepting what was happening. 
     The USGS stated we should have been prepared because it's not unprecedented for large earthquakes to occur in this area.  There was a 4.2 in South Carolina in 1896.  Fuck you, USGS.  I realize you look at time differently because you're studying seismic events that happened before people existed, but come on- have a little perspective.  That's a long time between earthquakes.  Technically, a dinosaur walking around isn't unprecedented either, but do you really think we should be covering dinosaur emergency procedures? 
     Early news reports said the Washington Monument was tilting.  This was apparently unfounded, but it is still closed and I guess some experts are actually checking it out for damage.  I hope it's ok.  It's a nice obelisk that really adds something to the city.
     Between the violent shaking and the cognitive dissonance I was left feeling nauseated for the rest of the day.  I just couldn't quite get it together.  I realize to people who experience these things all the time, it seems like we were all overreacting.  But to be fair, we weren't overreacting in the sense that we thought it was a tragedy and we couldn't cope.  We were overreacting because we thought it was the end of the world, because that seemed more likely than an earthquake.  When we learned it was an earthquake, we were confused, and kind of felt lied to.  And then we started overreacting because every person in the district was trying to leave at the same time and no matter how many times the news anchors ask us to be patient, we can't be.
     I was in an earthquake in Seattle once, and it was a very similar reaction.  People just weren't quite sure what had happened.  We stood there and thought "weird."  We didn't think "earthquake."  The earth shook for a little while and things fell from shelves and off walls.  Then that was it.  It was just weird.  It was over before we really had time to process "oh, this is an earthquake."
    This weekend, hurricane Irene is supposedly on its way.  This makes me laugh.  There's a picnic scheduled for Sunday and an email went out stating "If we get hit by a hurricane this weekend, the picnic will be relocated or rescheduled.  We know you're still getting over the earthquake, but we're serious."  Good times.       At least we know the hurricane is a possibility.  I overheard someone say "didn't they give you any warning?" in regards to the earthquake.  No, they can't predict earthquakes.  I actually think that was a big part of the plot of Tremors.  I bet they experienced some cognitive dissonance as well.     

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