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Willful Blindness

repost from iflizwerequeen

Photo from Affordable Housing

” . . . . .  As Colm O’Gorman, one of the first people to uncover abuse in the Catholic Church in Ireland, told me: “We make ourselves powerless when we pretend we don’t know.” But just because willful blindness is endemic does not make it irresistible. Roy Spence, a Texan advertising executive, refused to work with Enron even as the rest of the world beat a path to its door. [How about that folks, some Texans are not only smart, they are also ethical.] How did he see what others missed? He thought a lifetime of seeing through the eyes of the powerless gave him different perspectives. “My sister had cystic fibrosis and I used to wheel her to school every morning,” he told me. “I could see people pitying us, oblivious to the richness of our relationship. It made me ask, then as now: if they’re missing so much about us, what I am missing about them?” That internal dialogue is what Hannah Arendt called thinking.”

from Margaret Heffernan, author of “Willful Blindness” (Simon & Schuster)

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Margaret Heffernan’s book is filled with brilliant insights about what lies hidden beneath the sometimes puzzling exterior of our behavior.  Her comments regarding why we act as we do indeed unravel many mysteries.  She tell us that we are all biased in favor of ourselves which may explain why, despite decades of diversity programs, women and minorities have made little progress inside corporations.

Some passages from Heffernan’s book echo conclusions drawn by one of my favorite writers and commentators on the American experience of the poor whites–Joe Bageant.  Although the two certainly have different writing styles, much of their messages are the same, and both are messages that are certainly validated by my own observations and life experiences–See!  That exactly proves the premise of Ms. Heffernan’s book:  We are self-serving.  We choose media we agree with.  I am no different from anyone else.  How many liberals do you know who watch Fox News?  How many conservatives do you know who watch MSNBC? [Although with GE stock Monkey Phil Griffin firing true liberal reporters, and people like O’Donnell and Matthews finally coming out of their corporate centrist closets, we may have more conservatives watching MSNBC soon.]

We are genetically wired to seek out people, experiences, and ideas that we feel most comfortable with.  Our brain searches for matches because building on the known makes for more efficient processing. [A truth about us that Internet advertisers exploit daily.]  The book is a journey over unfamiliar terrain,  and I highly recommend it.

Willful Blindness adds credibility to all those cozy self-help cliches from the 1990?s.  Phrases such as:  ”Seek situations that you are uncomfortable with because that is where you will learn the most.”  Thus my lesson from Herrernan [whether she intended to impart it or not ] is to take a few more risks than I normally do and encourage others to do the same.  Go places where I may not be entirely comfortable and see what I learn.  I certainly learned a lot ten days ago by going to Perry’s Pray-a-Thon.

And for those who still believe that it is important to understand the clique known as “Washington D.C”, Willful Blindness indirectly explains a lot of the exclusive Beltway behavior.  Perhaps sending a copy to the President and his Cabinet might effect some discernible change.

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Liz Berry

Liz Berry