willful blindness

I hear from parents all the time that their children have “selective hearing.” I had it as a kid too. It seems that children have the uncanny knack to be able to tune out what they don’t deem as valuable no matter how loud; and to be able to hear, even at a whisper, what they want to hear.
But let’s talk about another sense and blocking stimuli. It’s been called “willful blindness” and it’s a defense mechanism like selective Hearing that allows us to not see what we don’t want to see. It’s normal that we have a lot of tough stuff to grapple with every day. Every day we are pulled in multiple directions and its often hard to know just what we should deal with first, we may ignore the phone bill to pay the heat bill or other prioritizing. But that is NOT willful blindness. There is a story I heard from Michael Josephson at Character Counts that talks about how on a bitter-cold Russian night, a countess was taken to a play in a horse-drawn carriage. When she arrived she ordered her driver and footman to wait outside with the carriage just in case she wanted to leave early. The play that night included several emotional scenes, and she was seen sobbing and getting caught up in the story. But when she left the theater she found a small crowd gathered around her carriage. She demanded to know what was going on, and the driver fearfully told her that the old footman froze to death. Willful Blindness allows the countess to cry when she thought it was appropriate and yet still ignore the feelings and health of her own staff during the freezing winter night.
Another example might be how we late night TV viewers see the infomercials asking for money to provide aid to starving children in far away places. It is willful blindness that allows us to turn the channel. If we don’t see it, it cannot be happening.
So then, what other things cause us to turn a blind eye? I am overwhelmed by the horror of sex scandals in the coaching profession that are coming to light lately. Gymnastics has it’s share of villains but now basketball and, most notably, Football at Penn state have made the news. In each of these stories there were people who knew what was going on and chose to remain silent. Was it willful blindness that put these children in harm’s way? What was it that the witnesses didn’t want to see? The reputation of a coach or a program being sullied? Or sadly, in the case of Penn State was it a fear of losing profitability for their football program. Money is the worst motivation I can think of to put a young person at risk. But they did not consider the next type of blindness, call it “willful ignorance.” The administrators and coaches forgot that people are happiest when ignorant. They file away things they don’t want to consider and eventually they forget. Though maybe they counted on the washing of memory too much, but the general public does have a tendency to forget things that bother them, and the quicker the amnesia the more comfortable they can be.
I have been characterized as someone who can hold a grudge. When I know of something that someone did to offend me, I remember it for a long long time. We have a friend who cheated on his wife, and I don’t associate with him any longer. That behavior is nothing that I want to be around. I will also avoid businesses that have shady practices or sketchy character because I will not support them with dollars or time. It makes it difficult sometimes but my character is in tact and remains steadfast. There is a business in my little town that supported financially a program that I have great concern with, and I will not use their services anymore. A friend said to me yesterday “Geez man, let it go.” And it got me thinking of this very topic.
Maybe if we didn’t “let it go.” Maybe if these questionable businesses and the evil people who did these heinous crimes to children were reminded every time we voted with dollar, time or care that we will not accept this, maybe there would have been more vigilance or consideration before the fact. Regardless of how we may NEED our football, we just aren’t cheering for the Nittany Lions anymore until their system is fixed and reproved. Maybe if we took off our blinders, forbid our ignorance and listened to everything we could make some changes that could make it all better, not disappear better, but actually better.
Josephson at Character Counts goes on to ask: “What are we pretending not to know?” I readily admit that we all have moral blinders and without them some days become intolerable. But we cannot be blind when it comes to allowing a child to be hurt. Yes we have moral blind spots but the challenge is to have the humility to find them and the character to fix them.

Leave a Comment