Looking beyond one’s wilful blindness


Christopher Farai Charamba The Reader
The phrase “love is blind” is a common cliché often cited when one chooses to comment on the relationship of another.

The situation tends to be where there is a something perceivably negative in the relationship that one party to the said relationship either refuses to acknowledge or overlooks.

It could be anything from looks to behaviour; a mother who refuses to see the wrong in their truant child and blames the neighbours kid instead or person who does not leave their cheating partner despite the barrage of evidence suggesting they should.

In her book “Wilful Blindness”, Maragret Hefferman writes: “When we love someone we see them as smarter, wittier, prettier, stronger than anyone else sees them. To us, a beloved parent, partner or child has endlessly more talent, potential and virtue than mere strangers can ever discern.”

Due to their affection for another, people are willing to turn the proverbial blind eye to a number of discomforts in order to spare themselves the reality of the situation.

But love is not the only scenario which causes wilful blindness. Hefferman’s book explores a host of other examples and asks “why we ignore the oblivious at our peril”, and what we can do to overcome this.

Hefferman uses real-life examples such as the 2006 US Government vs Enron case where corruption was left to go unchecked but ignorance as always could not be used as a defence.

Another example in a chapter titled “Just Following Orders” looks at the wreck of the HMS Victoria where 358 British Navy sailors were killed in June 1938. Rear-Admiral Markham followed orders that he knew would prove disastrous but had come from his superior and so he went through with them.

Such a situation, where military men claim to have just been following orders, is not uncommon and was cited by Nazi soldiers and service chiefs during the Nuremberg Trials after the end of World War II.

Hefferman expertly cross-examines various situations and draws from conversations with people, psychologists, personal and other research to compile a read that challenges one to look at where their blinders are, what it is they can do to come out of a situation where they intentionally ignore things.

“Whether individual or collective, wilful blindness doesn’t have a single driver, but many. It is a human phenomenon to which we have all succumb in matters little and large.” Hefferman writes.

Love is one cause of wilful blindness, obedience another and so too are religion and ideology. With regards to religion one local example that comes to mind is how certain members of an apostolic sect shun medical treatment in preferring natural remedies and prayer instead.

On ideology Hefferman says it “powerfully masks what, to the uncaptivated mind, is obvious, dangerous or absurd and there’s much about how and even where we live that leaves us in the dark”.

The author does recognise, though, that being wilfully blind has its social privileges and necessities. It “oils the wheels of social intercourse when we don’t see the spot on the silk tie, the girlfriend’s acne, or a neighbor’s squalor”, she writes.

Ignoring certain things can make co-existence more comfortable and this utility value, Hefferman argues, is perhaps why it has become entrenched in society.

In the book, Hefferman offers some solutions to how one can overcome wilful blindness which include acknowledging biases, relooking corporate culture that overworks individuals, questioning the issue of obedience and learning how to think critically.

Reading this book should cause one to introspect and search for where their blind spots are. With that knowledge in hand, one can start to make the necessary changes to ensure they are not caught up in a perilous situation they could have avoided.


Christopher Charamba is a self-proclaimed ardent reader of sorts. He can be found on Twitter @ChrisCharamba

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