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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 1324

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: book

Goleman D.
Vital lies, simple truths: The psychology of self-deception.
London: Bloomsbury 1985


An analysis of the ways we deceive ourselves, Vital Lies, Simple Truths entices the reader to question, to think and to see in new ways. Goleman draws on evidence of all kinds, from brain function to social dynamics to reveal how we skew our most intimate relationships, our day-to-day lives and our common reality by burying painful insights and memories.

Excerpt from the Book’s Forward:
We live at a particularly perilous moment, one in which self-deception is a subject of increasing urgency. The planet itself faces a threat unknown in other times: its utter destruction. …

… we live our lives oblivious to the consequences for the planet, for our own descendants, of just how we live. We do not know the connections between the decisions we make daily – for instance to buy this item rather than that – and the toll those decisions have on the planet. …

And for most of us, being oblivious to that relationship allows us to slip into the grand self-deception, that the small and large decisions in our material lives are of no great consequence. …

Self-deception operates both at the level of the individual mind, and in the collective awareness of the group. To belong to a group of any sort, the tacit price of membership is to agree not to notice one’s felling of uneasiness and misgivings, and certainly not to question anything that challenges the group’s way of doing things.

The price for the group in this arrangement is that dissent, even healthy dissent, is stifled.

[There is a] lesson for those who want to break through the cocoons of silence that keep vital truths for the collective awareness. It is the courage to seek the truth and to speak it that can save us form the narcotic of self-deception. And each of us has access to some bit of truth that needs to be spoken.

It is a paradox of our time that those with power are too comfortable to notice the pain of those who suffer, and those who suffer have no power.

To break out to this trap requires as Elie Wiesel has put it, the courage to speak truth to power.

An ancient malady and its cure:

The dynamic of information flow within and among us points to a particularly human malady: to avoid anxiety, we close off crucial portions of awareness, creating blind spots. That diagnosis applies both to self-deception and shared illusions. The malady is by no means new: Buddhaghosa, a monk who wrote a fifth-century Indian text on psychology, describes precisely the same twist of mind as moha, “delusion.” …

What is fascinating about Buddhaghosa’s assessment of the human predicament is not only its compatibility with the modern view, but its prescription for an antidote. The cure for delusion, says Buddhaghosa is panna, or insight – seeing things just as they are. …

What the therapist does for the patient, a lone voice can do for the group – if he is willing to break the hold of the group’s blind spots. In his suggestions for countering group think, Irving Janis suggests that a group designate one member as a deviant – that is, as a critical evaluator of what goes on, raising abjections and doubts. The devil’s advocate can save the group from itself, making sure if faces uncomfortable facts and considers unpopular views, and of which could be crucial for a sound decision.

This willingness to rock the boat is the essential quality of all those who would remedy delusion. It is the stance of the investigative reporter, the ombudsman, the grand jury, and the therapist alike. To accomplish the task, they each must bring into the open those facts that have been hidden in the service of keeping things comfortable. …

The impulse to obscure dark facts, we have seen, comes from the need to preserve the integrity of the self, whether individual or shared. A group may implicitly demand of its members that they sacrifice the truth to preserve an illusion. Thus the stranger stands as a potential threat to the members of a group, even though he may threaten them only with the truth. For if that truth is of the sort that undermines shared illusions, that to speak it is to betray the group.

Still the truth-teller may fill the quintessential modern need. We live in an age when information has taken on an import unparalleled in history; sound information have become the most prized of commodities. In the realm of information, truth is the best of goods.


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