Advance Performance | Wilful Blindness by Martin Wright
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Wilful Blindness by Martin Wright

Wilful Blindness by Martin Wright

In all of Advance’s course the starting point and the most important piece of information we impart is to make people aware of  how our brain and mind work. We teach people how their brains are wired and, more importantly, how their thought patterns can be changed. The importance of this is to give a deeper understanding of why people behave the way they do and why, sometimes, we don’t understand ‘why.’ To be aware of how and why we behave the way we do, will enable us to change for the better and to help us to be more in control of our emotions, especially when faced with situations which we may not want to face.

There is a term called ‘Willful Blindness’ which broadly covers these points and is often  used in law to describe a situation in which people seek to avoid a wrongful act by intentionally keeping themselves unaware of the facts that would render them liable. Margaret Heffernan, a distinguished author and businesswoman, has written the book ‘Wilful Blindness’ which covers the wider meaning of the term Wilful Blindness and one of the major questions she asks is  ‘Why do we ignore the obvious?’

She examines what makes us ‘blind’ and what it is in our human nature, and in the structure of our brains, that makes us so prone to this weakness. She looks at the comforts and costs of our refusal to see fully, and at the inspiring individuals who prove that we could see better.  We ask similar question on our Peak Performance course.  We talk about our ‘Taxi Driver’, the embodiment of the ‘creative subconscious‘ who drives our behaviour based on our preconceived beliefs, and the instructions we give him and the pathways we want him to follow in our brain.

In her book, Heffernan tackles our propensity to blindly follow our own, often faulty, attitudes about the world instead of responding to evidence, and cites many examples. For instance, she takes a scenario which she calls ‘The ‘Ostrich Instruction’’, based on Ostriches’ supposed habit of burying their heads in the sand to avoid danger. She references the eminent Dermatologist – John Hawke – who is consistently dumbfounded when people come to him with  skin problems then refuse to acknowledge that their problem (even after being bombarded with information as to the dangers) is the direct result of using sun lamps or spending too long in the sun without adequate sun filter protection.

In cases such as this, we leave ourselves vulnerable when we choose ignorance of the true nature of a situation and ignore advice. But we give ourselves power when we insist on looking and seeking the truth and facing up to reality. The most crucial learning point we can make is the recognition that we continue to change and learn right up to the moment we die.

Every experience, encounter and new lesson alters how our mind works. No two experiences are the same and we all handle our experiences in a different way.  Mental practice alone can change how our brains operate and it is that which makes each of us remarkable. The inside world (as stored in our subconscious) and the outside world (our behaviour and perceptions of the behaviour of others) must balance and the role of the creative subconscious (what we call our taxi driver) is to maintain that balance enabling us to better handle things as they are presented to us. However accepting the harder truths in life can often be difficult but it is necessary for us to grow into our full potential.

We make ourselves vulnerable when we purposefully choose ignorance. So why do we insist on doing it? This is a question we must constantly be aware of. But remember we give ourselves power when we insist on looking deeper.

Start with these simple questions:-

‘What information am I missing?’
‘What don’t I know?’
‘What more could I know?’
‘What else should I know?’
‘What am I missing?’

We must learn to accept things that may not fit with our current comfortable reality to make our future better.

For more reading on this subject:-

Wilful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed – where he refers to this as cognitive dissonance.