I purchased the audio version of the book and enjoyed listening to Margaret Heffernan read her book. Although the book's purpose is to heighten our awareness of our own shortcomings, her tone is neither preachy nor shill. She makes her points powerfully, with calm authority. I enjoyed her British accent, and it was easy to imagine her sitting across a table from me, discussing the issues in the book.
Prior to listening to "Willful Blindness," I'd read about a dozen books about failed decision making, such as "Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). The constant theme among them all is that we make ourselves powerless by pretending we don't know. Whether we are blind to our own shortcomings or blind to others' deceptions, we suffer in the end from this lack of knowing. Because the theme has been explored by so many others, I wondered if Heffernan would have anything original to say.
I found the book to be filled with tremendous insight into the paradox of the human condition. For example, Heffernan tells a story about her own life and her decision to marry a man with a serious heart problem that would, inevitably, lead to his death before the age of 40. Why would she blind herself to the fact of his medical condition and marry him, even after his other girlfriends had left him for healthier mates? It was love, she says. Our love for each other and our blindness to the faults of each other is part of the human condition. It is part of who we are. We are, in general, overly optimistic, wear rose colored glasses, trust others more often than we should, and typically fail to put all the facts together into a whole until confronted with a terrible, irreparable truth.
When does this blindness become dangerous, she asks? When there is harm, she says, especially when damage is done to the innocent, like children. So it is vitally important to learn how to trust our instincts, to have difficult conversations, and to take back any form of power that we might have given away. None of this is easy, she points out.
Other books on the topic make change seem so lineal: just realize how flawed your decision-making can be, and follow the instructions on how to remove one's blind spots. The great value of "Willful Blindness" is first pointing out through the use of stories how very human it is to be flawed, and then to heighten awareness of the value of recognizing difficult truths. Heffernan calls us to be better versions of ourselves, and because of her book, I think that we can.