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Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril Hardcover – March 1, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
A thoughtful and entertaining treatise on the seductiveness—and consequences—of ignoring what's right in front of our eyes, from former CEO and author Heffernan (The Naked Truth). We frequently ignore painful or frightening truths, subconsciously believing that denial can protect us, she argues, but our delusions make us ever more vulnerable, and whatever suffering we choose to ignore continues unabated. The author draws examples from the private—Bernie Madoff's family's blindness to his Ponzi scheme; a woman who married an alcoholic; another unable to see that her husband is sexually abusing her daughter—to the public: Alan Greenspan ignoring the housing bubble, a soldier working for Hitler. She gives us an insightful look into the psychology of denial and makes an ethical and pragmatic argument for engagement rather than deflection. Heffernan's cogent, riveting look at how we behave at our worst encourages us to strive for our best. (Mar.)
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“A call to arms to any whistle-blowers who see what lies ahead and have the courage to speak up.” ―Kirkus
“A thoughtful and entertaining treatise on the seductiveness--and consequences--of ignoring what's right in front of our eyes … Heffernan's cogent, riveting look at how we behave at our worst encourages us to strive for our best.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Willful Blindness is an engaging read, packed with cautionary tales ripped from today's headlines as well as a trove of research on why we often stick our head in the sand. With deft prose and page after page of keen insights, Heffernan shows why we close our eyes to facts that threaten our families, our livelihood, and our self-image--and, even better, she points the way out of the darkness.” ―Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind
“An intelligent and eye-opening look at the pervasiveness of willful blindness across society. Margaret Heffernan presents overwhelming evidence of the need for mindfulness as part of the cure.” ―Ellen J. Langer, author of Mindfulness and Counterclockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Possibility
“Willful Blindness combines compelling anecdotes, insightful interviews, and convincing scientific evidence to confront the mental distortions that conspire to blind us. Heffernan skillfully shows that by questioning the reasons for our actions and beliefs, we can take positive steps to avoid deluding ourselves.” ―Daniel Simons, coauthor of The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us
“Margaret Heffernan is an unblinking observer of what makes us tick in work and life. This is a book that everyone should read with eyes--and minds--wide open!” ―Alan M. Webber, author of Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self
“Heffernan speaks with a relentlessly constructive voice, brave curiosity, a passion for truth, and the practical mindset of someone who has built and led successful organizations herself. She motivates us to resist our own tendency to ignore the truths around us, and provides the insights and tools for us to empower others to do the same.” ―Mary C. Gentile, Ph.D., author of Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What's Right
Top customer reviews
Margaret Heffernan makes a strong case for how we make ourselves more vulnerable and less powerful by refusing to see what is right in front of us. America's multi-billion dollar dysfunctional relationship with emergency preparedness might well be called one of the most widespread and persistent examples of our willingness to ignore a situation to our own peril. Heffernan writes "...the Challenger explosion, the poorly coordinated response to Hurricane Katrina, climate change—can only happen when individuals and organizations turn a blind eye to what they know."
Throughout the book Margaret Heffernan provides example after example, where regular people -- not crazed haters of humanity -- simply avoided being present to realities, and it cost us dearly. The stories of the Bernie Madoff fraud and scandal, ENRON, BP's Deepwater Horizon and their Texas City Oil Refinery explosion, and so many other disasters are FILLED with people who didn't speak up, claimed to be unaware, accepted the status quo, etc.
Countless people in positions of authority in emergency preparedness and disaster response all across the country, but particularly in disaster-prone regions could be featured in any sequel to this book. Like so many people in Willful Blindness, they ignore the research on the efficacy of preparedness programs, and they continue to promote and put forth brochures, binders, pamphlets, classes, campaigns and trainings they know have never worked. Beyond the waste, and beyond the fact that people will suffer from the lack of preparedness, some know that this material is actually harmful* and they know that other less costly/more effective solutions exist. Willful Blindness gives us language to describe and discuss this phenomenon.
Heffernan is careful to not paint bystanders and others remaining willfully ignorant as monsters. She, in fact, acknowledges the benefits derived by not confronting hard and distressing issues, and she gives high praise to the "Cassandras" -- the people who cannot leave the truth unknown.
If you are a Cassandra for the topic of community emergency preparedness, Willful Blindness is filled with quality examples and a good dose of hope. This book could help people to find the courage to speak up, or provide more compelling arguments against our status quo lack of preparedness, and it's also an easy and thought-provoking read.
* Two papers related to the detriments of fear- and threat-based messages in emergencies and disasters. http://cardcanhelp.org/images/I-Cant-Hear-You020915-Final.pdf and http://cardcanhelp.org/images/public-perception-of-disaster-preparedness-Rocky-Lopes.pdf
The major goal of this book is not just to explain why this aspect of human behavior happens, but to show why turning our eyes away from uncomfortable facts is such a bad thing for everyone involved. She does this by employing hindsight to see the huge mess that was made in many large scale examples. But she does not forget to mention how this behavior also helps us as social animals to work together. The nuance of this conundrum is not lost on her.
Her background is in the business world, so she uses many examples from this sphere, along side applicable studies from psychology and neuroscience to demonstrate various aspects if willful blindness. She does go into other areas of human society, but business is what she seems to understand best, so it is not a problem that she spends a lot of time there. I'm guessing that because of this focus, this book will become popular among people in business and management, as it should.
My only disappointment is not with the author or the material, but with annoying fact that this aspect of the human brain seems to be a permanent defect that will exhibit itself in every future generation. Our only defense is to try to mitigate its effects by education and awareness. It will be an ongoing battle, but as with all such books on human behavior, it helps us understand ourselves better, and the more we understand how our own brain can steer us in wrong directions the more we can avoid the traps we unknowingly set for ourselves.
So that is about the content, but I also enjoyed Ms. Heffernan's writing. The book flowed well and kept me very engaged. With many books of this ilk, I find myself reading several chapters, then putting the book down for a few weeks before getting around to finishing it. With this book I found myself being drawn back to it every evening until I finished. It is a good read.
Bottom Line: The human brain is a tricky thing to operate. We need all the help we can get. "Willful Blindness" is a book that gives such us help. I hope this book finds a wide audience.