As a writer I have learned to observe people and study their behavior very closely. In so doing I have been training myself to pick up on the subtle traits and idiosyncracies of people’s unique personalities. I then use these insights as to help me to develop the main characters in my writing, for instance, my upcoming historical fiction novel, Children of the Ocean God. Interestingly, in the past weeks I have encountered a strangely recurring theme in various observations. Many people seem to go through life wilfully blind to themselves. That is they not only consciously avoid information which is contrary to their viewpoint (so called confirmation bias), but also even when presented with such contrary information, they actively seek to deny or ignore it completely. In particular, I have noticed that this is especially true when it comes to people’s perception of themselves.

In all honesty I find this phenomenon very disconcerting, yet for a long time I couldn’t quite put my finger on why it bothered me so much. However, recently during an eight-hour long flight from Brussels to Kigali I arrived at a profound insight. People who exhibit wilful blindness often lack authenticity. They come across as being artificial and unnatural since there is disconnect between reality and their corresponding perception. For example, I have observed that many people are quick to present themselves to others as being a ‘good person’ because they commit an act of kindness and receive social status and visibility for it. However, at the same time they completely ignore the less visible facets of their lives in which they treat certain individuals or groups of people disparagingly or when they act habitually in deceitful ways. Sometimes the gap between their self-perception and reality can be disturbingly distorted!

When we become accustomed to lying to ourselves (as well as to others) it is impossible to be our authentic selves. We lose the ablity to differentiate between what is true and false, which results in the gradual metastasis of our lives into one big lie. To make this more concrete, here are a few common examples which I have noticed are symptomatic of the dyad of willful blindness and inauthenticity:

  1. Not keeping our word – If you say you will do something and then do not follow through on it. This is especially inauthentic when you know you have no intention of ever following through.
  2. Knowingly not speaking the truth – If you say something which you know not to be true, but you say it anyway, even in a circumstance when lying is to no advantage.
  3. Treating others, especially people we don’t not like with disrespect or contempt – If you have a hierachy in how well you treat the people with whom you interact this is a tell-tale sign of being two-faced and lacking authenticity. A good example of this is if you are rude to waitstaff and cleaners, but are overly polite to people who are wealthy or who you perceive to have influence/power.
  4. Gossiping and talking behind people’s backs disparagingly – If you would not say what you have to say about a person to their face, especially if it is something you don’t like or resent about them. This is a sign that you are not being authentic in your relationship with that individual. (Obviously, when sharing your viewpoint you should do so in a respectful manner).

The list of course can go on and on. If we are honest we should be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and admit when we engage in these behaviors. We should strive to not be willfully blind. In order to achieve this and become our authentic selves we need to first acknowledge and then (pro)actively take steps to eliminate these behaviors. We tend to give ourselves a free pass and judge others harshly. You need to cast out the log in your eyes first before pointing out the flaw in others. That’s my take for the week. If you would like to read more about authenticity please check out this blogpost, entitled Shame, Vulnerability and Authenticity, which I wrote back in September 2020. It has a number of useful resources that can help you to delve deeper into this topic.

Thanks for stopping by. Stay well and healthy!

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