The ethical blind spot

The ethical blind spot

Here in Iceland we have a pretty nifty word: siðblinda.

The literal translation of siðblinda is “ethical blindness”. Basically it is used to describe people who in English I would classify as either psychopaths or narcissists.

PsychopathyThe English language typically has a lot more words to describe various shades and nuances of meaning than the Icelandic language. (Or most languages, for that matter.) That’s one of the reasons I love English. However, in this particular case, the Icelandic siðblinda just nails the meaning.

People who are siðblind are unable to see the plank in their own eye. To them, ethics is a meaningless concept. They will bulldoze over you without a second thought, and only apologize if they can intellectually comprehend that not apologizing may have some seriously adverse effects for them.

Let’s say you are injured by one of these people. We have diverse reactions. For me, typically, I get angry, but very soon begin to question my own responses. Usually that’s because the other person acts so completely blameless that I begin to question my own sanity and judgement. I start to think I may be wrong. 

That’s because these people cannot see the lack of ethics in their own behaviour. And somehow along the way they will almost inevitably manage to turn the injury around so that YOU feel in the wrong for speaking up.

They are blind to their own immorality. They are ethically blind. Siðblind. 

They say that these people often succeed in business because they are absolutely ruthless and have no qualms about doing whatever they need to in order to succeed. For example they’ll lie to your face, even apologize, then later twist things around and try to convince you that what was said wasn’t a lie.

I have been dealing with such individuals over the last couple of weeks. Thankfully since I’m fairly well schooled in this sort of behaviour (thanks to my upbringing) I’m quick to catch on to what’s happening. But it’s still infuriating and exhausting and potentially damaging. You have to pick your strategies and proceed with caution, know when to fall back and when to move forward, and take care not to get dragged into arguments or discussions where you try to show the siðblind person why you are right and they are wrong. That’s highly dangerous territory and leaves you extremely vulnerable, because it leaves them free to zero in on any weaknesses in your argument (and trust me – even if you think you have a bulletproof argument, the siðblind person will ALWAYS find weaknesses) and leave you feeling like an idiot and a fool. When that happens – when your self-esteem is on the floor – that’s when the siðblind person has won.

Most importantly of all, you have to take care of yourself. It’s so easy to think you’re going crazy, because they will do EVERYTHING to put things over on you. That’s why it’s called crazymaking. 

I hate it. I hate dealing with these people. But unfortunately it’s impossible to get through life without encountering them, and when you do, you just have to deal with it. Normally I try to walk away, but unfortunately in this case it’s not that simple and it looks like I’ll be tied up with them for a good, long while. All I can do is minimize the contact I have, and try to cut my losses.

Sometimes, in the end, that’s all you can do. Surrender, stop fighting, cut your losses, and try to stay as far away from them as possible.

  • Jonathan
    Posted at 08:41h, 27 May Reply

    Must learn this Icelandic word!
    You might have heard of “People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil” by M Scott Peck, and you might be interested in
    This is such a fascinating and important topic and so relevant to our time. Don’t despair Alda! We all have something which used to be called a soul (don’t know what the Icelandic word is). The soul can get ill just like the body. It can also be injured, for example when we have to deal with something ugly or untruthful.
    You can heal the soul rather nicely by, for example:
    Looking at something beautiful
    Listening to something beautiful
    Reading something beautiful, or true
    Thinking a beautiful thought
    Doing a charitable act
    It’s best to do one or other of these things on the day of the injury. It might only take a few moments but it contributes to the amount of goodness, beauty and truth in the world.
    Thanks for your articles, which always go to the top of my reading list when they pop into my inbox!

  • alda
    Posted at 09:37h, 27 May Reply

    Thanks Jonathan, I appreciate that! 🙂 Yes, I have heard of People of the Lie – I’ve mentioned it a few times in my posts. It has definitely been one of the most influential books in my life.

  • Ólafur Kr. Ólafsson
    Posted at 11:54h, 27 May Reply

    Isn’t ‘amoral’ a better English translation of the good, transparent, relevant-in-present-times Icelandic word ‘siðblinda’?

  • alda
    Posted at 11:58h, 27 May Reply

    Perhaps, but I was trying to convey the literal translation of the word. I like the inclusion of “blindness” in the Icelandic.

  • Susan
    Posted at 20:10h, 27 May Reply

    How does it translate literally? What does si[thorn] mean? (Sorry, my keyboard’s inadequate!)

  • Fred
    Posted at 17:21h, 28 May Reply


    Give yourself credit for recognizing what they are! That’s a difficult skill. I knew a psychopath who victimized some highly experienced and savvy business people.

  • Neamie
    Posted at 06:57h, 29 May Reply

    I like it! Ethical blindness. Calmer than sociopath.
    We all know them. I have the misfortune to be related to one.
    Especially true the bit about not trying to out-argue them.
    Thanks for the post. Lets me know I am not alone.

  • alda
    Posted at 10:22h, 31 May Reply

    Thank you everyone!

    Susan, “sið” is taken from “siðferði” which means ethics. What I used was the literal translation of the word – the non-literal translation would probably be “psychopathic” or, as Ólafur suggests, “amoral” (depending on the severity).

  • rod hart
    Posted at 18:56h, 31 May Reply

    I didn’t realise you were working with David Oddsson.

  • Jeffrey
    Posted at 08:36h, 03 July Reply

    I feel such a sense of appreciation rising in me as I read you, as I note the manner of your sincerity, clarity, and integrity in which you relate to truth. I feel a kinship with you.
    On the subject of ethical blindness: once I was reading an astrology book which provided interpretations of planets in certain signs for the natal chart, say, Saturn in Aries, for example. The interpretation read something like this: the person with Saturn in Aries has very little, if any, capacity for introspection, i.e., for self-inspection or self-questioning. Such a person tends to view their existence in terms of externals, i.e., what they can acquire, manipulate, control, blame, etc.
    In other words, the Universe creates persons who lack the capacity to think in terms of ‘As you do unto others, it will be done to you.”
    Some attribute this to the apparent condition of a lack of formation of the frontal lobes of the brain in utero and infancy due to lack of a safe, nurturing home and family environment. These ‘poor people’ literally have holes in their brains, where the brain tissue did not fully form. So, yeah… don’t expend too much energy in trying to change such people.

  • alda
    Posted at 10:34h, 03 July Reply

    Thank you, Jeffrey. It is always wonderful to know that there are kindred spirits out there. And interesting about Saturn in Aries … although I have doubts that this entirely explains this phenomenon. By which I mean I don’t believe that all the psychos in the world have Saturn in Aries – although wouldn’t it be amazing if they did? Then before you got involved with someone you could just say, “can I see your chart, please?” 🙂

  • Jeffrey
    Posted at 03:30h, 11 July Reply

    Agreed, Alda. I am not so foolish as to attempt to simplify the complexities comprising human personalities in the manner you teasingly suggest. There are an astounding number of factors and combinations presented in one’s birth chart. And yet, there is much of relevence here. (And, incidentally, yes, I would say if one were to ‘play all one’s cards,’ one would share/compare birth statistics both astrologically and numerologically before becoming too deeply involved with another!)
    By the way, there are a number of other planets one might have in the sign of Aries in one’s natal chart… which might produce similar energetic results as a Saturn in Aries, eh? Aries is just Aries, wherever it shows up: the youngest sign of the zodiac, immature, brash/pushy, ambitious, dynamic, martial, fast-talking, fast-grabbing…
    Even more important, though, is the point that the frontal lobes of babies do not fully form in non-nurturing environments, and the central nervous systems in such infants then stay oriented primarily in the instinctive and defensive/offensive ‘reptilian’ brain… this is why ‘the Devil’ loves war, for war is the quintessential perpetrator/perpetuator of the dense fear vibrations of primitive instinctual darkness/selfishness through succeeding generations…

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