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Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception – By Daniel Goleman – Book Review

by Daniel Goleman

“Vital Lies, Simple Truths” is worth reading!

I really enjoy Daniel Goleman’s writing. I find it challenging yet accessible, with a bit of effort. He writes regularly on behavioral sciences and is probably best known for his book, “Emotional Intelligence”.

“Vital Lies, Simple Truths” is an earlier book and I was very lucky to find it in a second hand book store in a small Karoo town called Bethulie – a good reason for me to go back there!

This book is about how we deceive ourselves… how we distort the pictures of reality in our minds by burying painful insights and memories… tell ourselves “vital lies”.

Goleman says that we do this on many levels, from that of the individual mind to the collective awareness of a group.

There are things that we ignore, don’t mention, don’t ask about. In fact, we agree not to notice our feelings of uneasiness and discomfort, never mind mention them. The result of this is that we develop blind spots and slip into a state of self-deception… “We do not see what it is that we do not see.”

Goleman states that this is a self-preservation mechanism. He gives interesting examples of people in positions of authority who seem to ignore obvious contradictions in their decisions but proceed anyway. Blind spots!

In the first section, Goleman explains the link between anxiety and awareness. He uses the story of Livingstone being bitten by a lion and feeling no pain. This is interesting! Very briefly… we cushion ourselves from anxiety by cropping out that which appears to be a threat. We make a frame for our experiences and pay attention to only that which fits INSIDE the frame. Thus, we run the risk of having a skewed view of reality and acting inappropriately.

What I like about this book is that every stage of the theory is amply illustrated with examples and case studies. Even though the material is fairly academic, I was never left feeling that I didn’t quite get the concept. I always felt compelled to read on.

This book is all about awareness and lack of it. How we notice and how we do not notice. And the results of our lack of awareness or incapacity for “seeing” the whole picture. We tell “vital lies” to ourselves, but, in so doing, create gaps in our beam of awareness that defines our reality from moment to moment.

After reading “Vital Lies, Simple Truths” I felt as if I had been given a better insight into why we behave as we do, why we cling to obviously unhealthy situations, and why we perpetuate unfair or unbalanced systems – namely, we agree not see! Of course, having this information gives me the tools to be more self-aware – I hope!

Go from Vital Lies, Simple Truths to More about Anxiety

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Reviewed by Margo
April 2009


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