I’m reading Margaret Heffernan’s book Willful Blindness; her subtitle speaks to a critical reason we’re struggling with so many unresolved issues: “Why we ignore the obvious at our peril.”
Heffernan argues people turn a blind eye to evident problems for many reasons: We’re too busy to tackle more than is already on our plate, the organizations we work in don’t like people who aren’t “team players,” group-think psychology runs deep in our social psyche, and it requires real courage to be a “Cassandra” (a person who points out the truth knowing they will be punished or disbelieved).
When I was an organizational consultant I encountered the phenomenon of “lying forward:” people telling their immediate superiors what they think they want to hear, rather than confronting their bosses with their harsh reality. Lying forward causes senior management to make bad decisions, because, in effect, all the way up the chain of command people have not given honest, accurate information.
Combining “willful blindness” with “lying forward” creates dysfunctional organizations, often leading to those organizations either struggling to meet their objectives or collapsing entirely.
Willful blindness and lying forward are compounded in the political realm by something Ms. Heffernan refers to as the “fog of ideology:” people adhering to a set of beliefs about society that is immune to obvious contrary facts or evidence. Debates about poverty, taxes, the role of government in society, and sustainability remain unresolved largely because of this fog of ideology. Political parties are particularly susceptible to these phenomena. In fact, I believe they actually require them all to be in play to enable the absolute control that leader’s offices exercise over individual elected members.
Sadly, willful blindness, lying forward and the fog of ideology in the political realm are now putting our society at peril. We desperately need more Cassandras within political parties and their caucuses.
Bob Simpson is the independent MLA for Cariboo North.