TED Talk: Margaret Heffernan–Dare to disagree and say no to willful blindness.

Gayla Benefield opted to be a “whistleblower” because she cared that much and I believe she had a strong Sense of Self. She is a woman I would love to meet some day.

Margaret Heffernan’s TED Talk on “willful blindness” hooked me with the story of Gayla Benefield discovering that the very source of early deaths and rampant health issues in the small isolated town of Libby, Montana was also the main livelihood for the town’s population. For decades no one said a thing, for they didn’t know better. When Gayla saw the mysterious pattern, she investigated further and raised her concerns, but time and again no one would acknowledge the problem literally all around them. Thankfully, she persisted and things got changed for the better in Libby, Montana. (Make time to listen to this TED Talk)

Are we born with “willful blindness” or is it learned behavior?

According to Heffernan, “Willful blindness exists on epic scales … on very small scales, in people’s families, in people’s homes and communities, and particularly in organizations and institutions.”

Willful blindness essentially means, there’s information that you could know and you should know but you somehow manage not to know. Worse still, you have chosen not to know.

It can’t be instinctual to be willfully blind? Surely this behavior, like so much else is a learned behavior over time—dependent on our environment, experiences, and conditioning. Instinctually, we are born with a drive to survive. According to Heffernan, the horrible truth that Gayla uncovered was that a town was essentially unaware that the #1 source of revenue and livelihood was also the same source responsible for the mortality rate that was 80% higher than average.

As Heffernan states, “We’re all, under certain circumstances, willfully blind.” Heffernan offers many examples of when and where willful blindness is the norm and sadly reports she finds that it exists globally. It’s not a British or Swiss quality, it is a human quality.

How did that “way of being” get started in the first place?

When I am conditioned not to complain what comes later? I’ll adopt a strategy for getting by somehow even if it derails my quality of life experience or at worst, kills me prematurely.

Quietly or loudly abuses will occur which might even become the acceptable norm and the legacy. Is that really how you want to experience living?

What if we were unwilling to be willfully blind?

If we were not willfully blind, I’d like to believe that we’d naturally speak up more.

We’d speak up about how we are feeling when we are feeling it.
We’d speak up about what’s really going on when it’s happening.
We’d speak up about what we think should be different.
We’d be willing to have the difficult conversations knowing we might not be popular.

So how often are people actually willing to speak up?

Research done by academics (and Heffernan in her global travels) indicates that “Eighty-five percent of people know there’s a problem, but they won’t say anything.” 85%!

We at Healthy Sense of Sense plan to be like Gayla. “…She’s like you, and she’s like me. She had freedom, and she was ready to use it.”

Someone has got to do it. We will call out social problems and issues when we see them. And if you agree or disagree with us, we’d love to hear from you and start a dialogue. And how come we will “dare to disagree” (which is the title of another TED Talk by Heffernan that is equally confronting and wonderful)?

With a strong and healthy Sense of Self comes the feeling of being free to express one’s thoughts, perspectives, opinions, and solutions. We’ll be the best kind of “whistleblower” we can be. Our goal and hope is that people are willing to look within themselves and ask, “Am I free to be my Real Self?”

Remember: “But freedom doesn’t exist if you don’t use it, and what whistleblowers do, and what people like Gayla Benefield do is they use the freedom that they have. And what they’re very prepared to do is recognize that yes, this is going to be an argument, and yes I’m going to have a lot of rows with my neighbors and my colleagues and my friends, but I’m going to become very good at this conflict.”

How persistently would you speak up about something you felt was wrong –because it was the right thing to do?

Do you have what it takes to even do that? Take the 90 second quiz and find out.


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