Written by Ada Den Hollander
The first aspect of our behaviour in this post has to do with turning a blind eye which I derive mainly from an interesting book I read last week entitled: Wilful Blindness. Written by researcher and businesswoman Margaret Heffernan. The book was first published in 2011 and has been updated and reprinted several times.
The book is about how we tend to look away if a certain situation doesn’t feel right to us, is uncomfortable, disturbs our peace of mind, can be financially threatening, gets in the way of our ego etc. We just don’t like change, we prefer the situation as it is. Numerous examples are described in the book, based on carefully conducted scientific research, with all references at the back of the book.
The question remains whether our behaviour is naturally what it is or whether it is formed by the circumstances (nature versus nurture). There is no simple answer to that. I think both play a role. One child experiences its upbringing differently from a sibling while the circumstances are the same, because it is, for example, more sensitive. Identical twins can show completely different behaviour later in life, while the opposite also occurs. This is an introduction on my part. Some examples from the book:
We are always amazed that women go back to the men who abuse them. Whether the abuse is verbal, physical or sexual, the man promises to better himself and the woman believes him. Women who make that choice have low self-esteem (I don’t deserve better, perhaps an example of nature) or they saw their mother undergoing the same treatment (they don’t know any better, an example of nurture). They tell themselves that it is their fault, that they themselves must be a better wife to their husband, or that they cannot handle life on their own (especially for financial reasons). These women are often the victims of psychopaths, who are so manipulative that even psychologists are deceived. Both groups are therefore blind to reality and look away.
Child abuse, whether sexual or otherwise, is much more common than we think. That incest only occurs in lower-class families is a fairy tale, that mothers often look away, unfortunately not. Why is that? Out of fear of what they will get themselves into when they speak up. Head in the sand, then the problem does not exist. Especially because they want to keep the harmony (for themselves, not for the child). The consequences for the (behaviour of the) child are enormous.
Alice Stewart noticed in the 1950s that twice as many children born to women who had an x-ray during pregnancy developed cancer in a period of ten years. Before making this widely known, she did more research and kept coming to the same conclusion. She raised it with colleagues before publishing it in The Lancet in 1956. There was talk of the Nobel Prize for her. And then nothing at all happened. Why? It was indigestible for doctors that they had done something that turned out to be life-threatening to foetuses. X-rays were in vogue, because it was a relatively new technology and no one wanted to see the harm it could cause. People looked away. She was made fun of. It took many years for her findings to be recognised. (this is a very short summary of her story)
Albert Speer, after 1942 the second most powerful man in Germany, and Hitler got along very well. Speer was therefore completely blind to the monster that was Hitler. His life was spared at the Nuremberg trial because he freely admitted not seeing what Hitler had been doing. He later stated to his biographer that he had to spend the rest of his life coming to terms with what he had done because he had been blind.
You are in love and a good friend very carefully says something negative about your new love. You don’t hear it, you don’t see it, you are completely blind. You even push away that annoying little voice in the back of your head.
Other examples: MeToo; People who are initially critical of misconduct in their company, but then gradually go along with the flow, because everyone does it and you don’t want to be an outsider. The real whistleblowers, who don’t mind being ridiculed when they denounce wrongdoing at companies, institutions and governments, are being fired because they are contrarians and reveal things that the boss is looking away from, often because a lot of money is at stake. Madoff, Enron etc.
And so there are countless other examples in the book of which you think, how on earth is it possible? But look into the mirror. Is our own behaviour always flawless? Can we always resist the temptation to do something that we know is not actually right, but which we then know how to condone in an excellent way?
Look what happened when the sale of cigarettes was banned. The black market grew by the day. Everyone smoked as much as ever before or more, no one suddenly stopped smoking. If you intend to quit smoking, it isn’t going to happen because the sale is banned. I would almost say the opposite is true. I myself hadn’t smoked a cigarette for over a year, but I thought when the ban is lifted, I will light one or two or… Purely recalcitrant behaviour.
Forbidding something leads to excessive behaviour and has the opposite effect.
Alcohol insanely expensive in Sweden? Then we take the ferry back and forth and drink as much and as fast as we can, as soon as the boat is out of territorial waters. How so?
The ban on the sale of alcohol caused the same behaviour as with the cigarettes. You want more of it if you can’t have it freely and legally.
Forbidden fruits (illegal cigarettes and alcohol, drugs, an affair) simply taste much better. Why? Because of the excitement? The chance to get caught? Satisfaction of our ego? Look at me? Pure boredom? The need of something outside of ourself to get a fix?
Us humans are also resourceful. No alcohol for sale? Then we make it ourselves, right? With ginger and pineapple, for example. (this has increased the price of ginger by 300%, but this aside). Anything better than being without.
If there has ever been an interesting time to take a closer look at our behaviour, it is now. People who express different opinions are ridiculed, fired or slandered. Just like so many whistleblowers before them. Without giving the other person the opportunity to give his view on the matter and thus engage into a dialogue. We are quick to judge, but who are we to even have an opinion about someone else.
He who is without sin ……