Get Your Head Out Of The Sand
Insights from 'Wilful Blindness' by Margaret Heffernan
The image of a tall, wingless bird digging its head deeper into the ground is always good for a laugh.
In real life though, ostriches don’t bury their heads in the sand… or anywhere else.
It’s just an optical illusion.
The largest living bird lays its head and neck on the ground to escape predators, that’s all!
As a metaphor for wilful blindness, though, it’s especially popular.
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The desire to escape unwelcome news, to not see uncomfortable truths– Denial is all around us.
Margaret Heffernan knows a thing or two about denial.
A Bestselling author of seven books, serial entrepreneur, and former CEO of five companies, she’s actually written a book on the subject– Wilful Blindness: Why We Ignore The Obvious at Our Peril.
Some things are not visible, she says, not because they are hidden, but because we are literally turning a blind eye to them.
That lack of recognition can cost us dearly.
Our brain plays a big role in limiting our vision, says Heffernan.
The human brain values familiarity and doesn’t want to recognize anything that could drag it outside its comfort zone.
Also, we see what we expect to see, she points out.
And in the process, miss out on so many other things that are “hiding” in plain sight.
But it’s more than just about how our brains are wired.
Information overload, the urge to multitask, and sheer exhaustion play a big role in making our vision blinker.
We are often blindsided by issues that should have been obvious to us much earlier.
These could be individual-level such as partner infidelity and falling deeper into debt.
Or global disasters.
The financial meltdown of 2008, the crisis of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, and the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
Heffernan points to all of these as telling instances of wilful blindness.
Looking back, it is incredible that they weren’t caught and addressed much earlier.
But hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it?
What we need to do, says Heffernan, is to learn to see better in the present and open our eyes to what’s going on.
To continue with the much-maligned ostrich metaphor… we need to get our heads out of the sand.
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