Willful blindness

The economic socialisation of young peopleWillful blindness: Why we ignore the obvious at our peril / Margaret Heffernan
New York: Walker, 2011. 294 p.

The surprising reasons we turn a blind eye to problems - and how to see more clearly to prevent pitfalls and disasters in our personal, professional, and civic lives.
How could the Catholic Church not see its abusing priests? How could economists miss the housing bubble? Why do spouses think their adultery won't hurt anyone? How could mortgagees take on so much debt? The answer to all these questions is the same: willful blindness. The biggest threats and dangers we face aren't secret or hidden. They're the ones we choose to overlook.
Distinguished businesswoman and writer Margaret Heffernan examines the phenomenon of willful blindness, tracing its imprint in our social lives, love lives, and working lives. What is it that makes us prefer ignorance? Why, after every major accident and blunder, do we look back and say, How could we have been so blind? Why do some people see more than others? And how can we change? Drawing on studies by psychologists and neuroscientists, and interviews with business leaders, whistleblowers, and white collar criminals, Heffernan explores the mechanisms that render individuals and groups blind to personal tragedies, corporate collapses, engineering failures - even crimes against humanity. Human beings turn a blind eye in order to feel safe, avoid conflict, reduce anxiety, and protect prestige. Financial concerns, oppressive workloads, and information overload also make it hard to see (or to admit to ourselves or our colleagues) the issues and problems in plain sight.
By understanding the many psychological, social, and organizational reasons we are blind, we may begin to take practical steps to see more clearly. We can challenge our biases, encourage debate, discourage conformity, and not back away from difficult or complicated problems. Only when we confront facts and fears can we achieve real power and unleash our capacity for change.