The Anatomy of Willful Blindness: A Moment With Bill Reflection
Willful blindness (sometimes called ignorance of law, willful ignorance or contrived ignorance or Nelsonian knowledge) is a term used in law to when an individual seeks to avoid civil or criminal liability for a wrongful act by intentionally putting himself in a position where he will be unaware of facts that would render him liable.
It’s been a tough day and you are dead-dog tired. Eight hours of teaching and three hours of coaching have you drained physically and emotionally, and all you really want to do it go home, have a beer, and maybe watch some of the basketball game.
As you are conducting your final check of the gymnasium you turn into the bathroom area and there is an assistant coach having sexual relations with a ten year old boy.
Shocked, you go home, tell your wife what you have seen, and you both agree that you need to tell someone in authority the next day. You rise early the next morning and head to school where you tell the head coach about the incident. He tells you he will handle it. About a week later you are called in for a meeting with the school administration and you again tell your story. They thank you for the report and say they will handle it.
And that’s where the story dies because nothing was done by the administration or by the head coach.
Willful blindness, and it happens much more than any of us want to believe.
We were all shocked by the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State University….or were we? Anyone who follows the news has heard of the veritable flood of sexual misconduct in the Catholic Church and the cover-ups in that institution. Anyone familiar with the history of the military realizes that willful blindness occurs, and anyone familiar with the history of major corporations in America is aware of willful blindness.
Perhaps this is a larger problem than we want to believe.
An Interesting Case Study
I recently watched a Ted Talks video about a whistleblower in the small town of Libby, Montana. You can watch the entire video to the right if you have fourteen minutes to spare. I think you will find it fascinating.
To summarize for you, the story is about Libby, Montana, a small city in the northwest corner of the state where the economy for years has been centered around mining and most notably the mining of vermiculite.
Gayla Benefield is a resident of Libby, and over the course of working her job as a meter reader for the local utility company she noticed a large percentage of older men sitting in their living rooms breathing from oxygen tanks. With her curiosity now on full alert she began investigating and she discovered that the mortality rate in Libby is 80 times higher than the United States average.
Well it turned out that vermiculite was a key component of asbestos, the same asbestos that miners had been breathing for decades; the same asbestos that was used in paving roads and parking lots around Libby; and the same asbestos that leaked into the soil all around town.
Shocked, Ms. Benefield started telling people about her discovery, and her news fell not only on deaf ears but totally uninterested ears. People simply didn’t want to know, and of course the city officials and mine officials denied any knowledge of it.
But she wouldn’t give up, and eventually she gained the interest of the Federal government, and yes, eventually changes were made and lawsuits were won.
It is mentioned time and time again in the video that Ms. Benefield was just a normal person, just your average citizen going about her life, who was suddenly confronted with a situation she could not rationalize away and certainly not ignore.
She was just like you and me, and just like your neighbors down the street, and yet she was so much more.
As the producers of this film did their research they began to formulate a picture of this thing called willful blindness, and they decided that people practice willful blindness for one of several different reasons:
- They are afraid of the consequences
- They do not want to get involved
- They believe it is none of their business
- They are apathetic
Whatever the reason for the inaction, the leaders of Libby knew for decades that the vermiculite was causing health problems and they chose to remain silent, and like the Jerry Sandusky case, we really should not be shocked.
In fact, I am willing to bet that each one of you reading this can think of a situation you have either been involved in or witnessed from afar of people turning a blind eye when confronted with evidence of wrongdoing.
Let’s Go One Step Further
This is a fascinating subject if you think about it. People are fully aware that they are eating modified foods and that most foods sold in grocery stores contain dangerous chemicals, and yet they go ahead and eat them AND feed them to their children. People are fully aware that certain activities are bad for the environment and yet they go ahead and do them. People are fully aware that drinking and driving is a dangerous undertaking and yet they remain silent when their neighbor drives home drunk after work, and people are fully aware that spousal abuse is against the law and wrong and yet they remain silent when they see the bruises on the housewife next door.
Exaggerations? I think not and neither do you!
When I think of things like willful blindness my thoughts automatically return to my childhood and teen years. How could they not? Most of the important lessons I learned about life I learned during those first nineteen years, and rarely does a day go by when I don’t hear my mom or dad whispering in my ear from afar, teaching me lessons of right and wrong.
There was not an ounce of willful blindness in my dad. He saw wrong and confronted it. Period, no ifs, ands or buts, do not pass go and do not collect $200, that man was as black and white as you could ever hope to meet. There was no wiggle room for self-justifying meanderings of moral b.s…..if it was wrong then you right it. If someone could not stand up for themselves and defend themselves then you did it for them. If the bully was harming others then you harmed the bully. It was Old Testament justice from a man who wouldn’t recognize a Bible if you hit him over the head with it, and you had better believe those lessons sunk in with this boy.
Listen, I’m not a saint, but I understand all too well that once you turn a blind eye on an injustice, that action will slowly eat you alive from the inside out for the rest of your life, and I for one have no desire to live that way, being devoured by a parasite of my own making.
And yet so many do!
It’s none of my business.
Never mind; let them handle it.
Don’t get involved.
Pay no attention and it will all go away eventually.
Really? Is that any way to live?
Thoughts from my blog about willful blindness
- Do You Suffer From Willful Blindness? | A Moment With Bill
Good morning and Happy Wednesday! Today let’s talk about a legal term called willful blindness. For a legal definition I’ll use our old friend Wikipedia: Willful blindness (sometimes called ignorance of law, willful ignorance or contrived ignorance o
You Just Knew I Would Give My Opinion
This kind of willful ignorance chafes my butt. How’s that for eloquent?
Let me take that one step further. If you are a part of this type of behavior then you should be ashamed.
Over the eighteen years that I taught school I know of five children who were abused at home. No, I have no proof of the abuse, but anyone who has ever been a teacher will agree with me that you just know. There are signs in the behavior of a child that figuratively scream abuse, and once faced with those signs you are enraged and deeply saddened.
In any school system in America, there are steps that must be taken so that the school is not legally “liable” of wrongdoing. Just writing those words starts my blood boiling.
So we see the signs, we become suspicious, and we notify our superiors. They tell us to fill out forms, keep a record of what it is we see, and present it at the next faculty meeting. That meeting comes and goes, reports are filed and the school counselor is informed, and at that point the problem is in his/her hands. They meet with the child, do their evaluation and write up their report. Of course the child denies any wrongdoing because there is no way they are going to speak out against their abusive parent, so the whole thing dies in an avalanche of paperwork and red tape.
I am still haunted to this day by the faces of those five children.
To be less than haunted is to be less than human.
Willful blindness is a moral cancer that must be eradicated.
One person at a time….that’s how major changes happen….when the government will not act…when the corporation will not act….when the rest of the public will not act…..
We must act!
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”