A Poetics of Safety
The idea of Poetics captures all forms of knowing that are non-measureable, non- quantitative, yet are essential to the experience of living. We live our life in the in-between and rarely in the extremes. We daily experience the unresolved tensions between: finitude and infinitude, love and hate, forgiveness and revenge, entanglement and isolation, being and doing etc. In Socialitie, these tensions and discords are expressed in text by a hyphen (eg. i-thou). We write about this often in the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) as being in ‘dialectic’.
When we find ourselves in moments, when we cannot express; experience, emotions, feelings or understanding, we turn to Poetics. Poetics is often expressed in: song, dance, poetry, literature, art, music, metaphor, semiotics, para-linguistics and metaphysical expressions. These often help us in suffering to maintain the tensions in our being. In moments of ecstasy or deep depression we often turn to Poetics to try to say what we cannot say. We often experience this when we are at a wedding, birth or funeral. Our knowing in such moments is tacit, we look for expressions for what we know but cannot say.
When my eldest daughter Kerrie was married, she decided to get married in Tidbinbilla National Park just 30 minutes south-west of Canberra, in an area that had not been destroyed in the 2003 bushfire. My brother Graham did the ceremony and married Kerrie and Mitch with friends and family who came from all over Australia to share.
Everything was packed in cars and eskys (cooler boxes) and after the ceremony we set up tables and enjoyed finger-food, drink and celebration. My brother-in-law Geoff who is a wedding photographer, did his stuff and captured Kerrie and Mitch after their vows on a huge rock overlooking the valley below and of course, filled with symbolism standing on this rock, as people were away setting up for food and drink.
It was a time that Kerrie and Mitch shared alone with Geoff and later we shared in the photographs. The scene was spectacular and captured all that mattered to them.
The ceremony was very special too and this is the only time this has happened. Kerrie requested that as part of the ceremony that her brother and sister sing a song accompanied by me on the guitar, a song called More Than Words by Extreme. You can read the words and hear the song here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0R-FGchhwLw . This is the only time we have ever performed together.
This song More Than Words captures the significance of all that is semiotic/Poetic, not that words are not important, but when we encounter the mystery of life, the indescribable and the awesome, words seem to no longer able to match what we want to say or express. In moments of tacit inexpressible feeling/emotion, we seek gesture and semiotics to speak for us; prayer and song are such semiotics.
The words of the song More Than Words are here:
More Than Words
Saying “I love you”
Is not the words I want to hear from you
It’s not that I want you
Not to say, but if you only knew
It would be to show me how you feel
More than words
Is all you have to do to make it real
Then you wouldn’t have to say
That you love me
‘Cause I’d already know
What would you do
If my heart was torn in two
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real
What would you say
If I took those words away
Then you couldn’t make things new
Just by saying “I love you”
La di da, da di da, di dai dai da
More than words
La di da, da di da
Now that I’ve tried to
Talk to you and make you understand
All you have to do is close your eyes
And just reach out your hands
And touch me
Hold me close don’t ever let me go
And so to safety: the care and helping of people in tackling risk.
In the face of a tradition that privileges engineering and mathematics, where is the discussion of all that is Poetic? When things are unsafe and when things go wrong, how what can engineering and mathematics say to us? Zero? Why is Poetics not a part of discussion in safety? When Safety most often speaks, it about loss, pain and harm? Isn’t it odd that Safety counts loss, pain and harm and then does hands it on to someone else to deal with? What a strange conundrum. And when things do go wrong, who would ever turn to Safety for comfort them, when all it speaks is: ‘safety is a choice you make’, ‘all accidents are preventable’ and ‘zero’?
This is why Safety never speaks of being a ‘helping profession’ and yet it loves the word ‘professional’, it just doesn’t want to ‘help’, because it doesn’t know how.
Wouldn’t it be great if the safety curriculum and AIHS BoK introduced the importance of care and helping in safety? Wouldn’t it be good to have skill development in the industry in listening, care and helping? Wouldn’t that make a surprising contribution to an ethic of risk?