The KISS principle is alive and well in the safety industry under the belief that if you keep repeating slogans, myths and mantras, they must be true. Let’s look at how dangerous and harmful just one of these slogans is:
Culture is ‘what we do around here’
The danger of this naïve and simplistic slogan is that it ignores 95% of what comprises culture even the notion of gestures, slogans, myths, and mantras themselves. So, even this myth endorses the ignorance of myths as indicatives of culture. The focus on ‘doing’ completely overlooks the criticality of ‘being’, language, politics, history, artifacts, myths and a host of non-behavioural indicators of culture. Indeed, by mis-defining culture and being satisfied with simplistic definitions of reality is not only misleading but helps the industry to remain immature, unprofessional and naïve.
The power of slogans, myths and mantras is in how they are repeated and regurgitated. The power of gestures, myths and mantras is their ritualistic power. Religious rituals, myths and mantras gain their power by repetition (Douglas 1966: Purity and Danger, an analysis of the concepts of pollution and taboo). None of things like myths, slogans, mantras and their attachment to beliefs is about ‘doing’. Much of this mythical power is hidden and un-observable. Jung called this the ‘collective unconscious’ which captures the nature of culture in a much more sophisticated way. At least the AIHS BoK on Culture acknowledges the power and presence of cultural myths (pp.75ff). However, even the BoK on Culture is too closed to really open up the possibilities of what culture is about. And in the BoK on Culture what does it do for definition? It turns to people who frame their worldview through safety, not people who frame safety through cultural worldview. Many critical aspects of culture are completely missing from the BoK on Culture eg. the idea of religion and religiosity has no mention in the BoK on Culture, even its definition of myth is phenomenally narrow and not discussed. Unless one understands the power of religiosity and myth in culture one overlooks some of the most powerful dynamics at work in organisations. Often when doing cultural studies on starts at religion ah, but not Safety, such has no relevance to ‘what we do around here’!
I had a friend Trevor who lost his wallet and he was not sure where he had lost it. It could have been at the night BBQ he attended, the taxis he used, in the street between homes, near the ATM he accessed or back at home. The wallet was dropped at night and he only realized the loss when he was home and undressed for a shower. Trevor would have to search in the morning in clear daylight. He really didn’t know where to look so he cancelled all his cards and started the process of getting a new driver’s license etc. Trevor gathered together friends at all locations to search, retrace steps and look for this wallet and did so over and over again for the next 2 days, repeating and repeating the search. After 3 days he was sure the wallet was either stolen or lost.
Of course, we often search for things according to our assumptions and waste hours and hours looking in the wrong place. We remain driven by these assumptions and how they comfort us under the understanding that our searching was not in vain.
Of course, the wallet eventually showed up after a few weeks and hours of visits to banks and phone calls etc. A small boy was playing under the steps at the house where the BBQ was, a place where only a small child could fit. The wallet had dropped and bounced under the steps and wasn’t even visible with a torch and of course, if an adult can’t see something then it mustn’t exist. It was dark under the step but moreso there was a cavity that couldn’t be seen unless one was able to get inside and look back through the steps.
Mis-defining or under-defining a concept built on assumptions constructed by a single worldview is like the search for Trevor’s wallet. When your worldview tells you there is no other view then the most simplistic view must be the only view. That way you can feel comfortable searching forever in the wrong place and solve very little. Such is the comfort of a mono-disciplinary approach to risk and safety and the complexities of culture. Safety itself is a ‘knowledge culture’ (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-as-a-knowledge-culture/) as all disciplines are knowledge cultures. Unless one transverses across ‘knowledge cultures’ one won’t even know the mean of myth.
The slogan and myth of ‘what we do around here’ provide great comfort to a sector that thinks it has THE definition to guide action, all the time accepting the comforts of a closed mono-disciplinary view. Even when Safety knows that such a myth is mid-guided, it continues to repeat the myth as if somehow it advances the case for cultural solutions. The opposite is the case. The more we are sure that the wallet is not under the step, the more we won’t find it.
When something is made a myth it takes on religious significance, its repetition becomes part of religious attachment, all the time reinforcing a myth that is not real. The nature of myth is inseparable from religious adherence and an understanding of faith (Douglas, 1992 Risk and Blame, Essays in Cultural Theory: https://monoskop.org/images/1/1d/Douglas_Mary_Risk_and_Blame_Essays_in_Cultural_Theory_1994.pdf) and propaganda. This is why such an omission from the BoK on Culture is so problematic. No expert on culture would make such an omission. Indeed, many experts on culture start their understanding of culture at religion and faith (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307956696_Religion_and_culture; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254111152_Psychology_of_Culture_and_Religion_Introduction_to_the_JCCP_Special_Issue; https://www.ksk.edu.ee/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/KVUOA_Toimetised_14_9_alar_kilp.pdf). And we have seen just how religious the safety industry is about zero (https://safetyrisk.net/no-evidence-for-the-religion-of-zero/). Watching the industry worship the ideology of zero like a Hillsong Convention is evidence of just why an understanding of religion, faith and a theology of suffering is critical to an industry that thinks such disciplines have nothing to say about risk, safety and culture. Do a search of the BoK on Culture, the words religion and faith appear nowhere!
Of course, a transdisciplinary understanding of culture (https://safetyrisk.net/transdisciplinary-thinking-in-risk-and-safety/) would help Safety find the wallet under the step. Such an unknown cavity requires a childlike approach to learning that supposes that Safety may be able to learn something from Ethicists, Religious Studies and Cultural Anthropologists. Such an approach requires stepping outside the fortress of Safety in an act of Humble Enquiry (https://www.bkconnection.com/static/Humble_Inquiry_EXCERPT.pdf), an essential capability of discovery learning.
So we return to the repetition of this myth ‘what we do around here’. Safety would be much better off if it was silent in many of its mythical mantras and repetitions. Sometimes the noise of the mono-culture is more dangerous and harmful than silence (https://safetyrisk.net/the-noise-of-safety-silence-and-practicing-of-mindfulness/). It drives the industry to search in the wrong places and ask the wrong questions thus in confirmation bias thinking it’s knowledge within its culture as the limit of learning. Perhaps the next step in the repetition of safety myths is to construct a prayer wheel so that the repetitions can be made with less effort and thereby invoking the myth more often to make it true. Don’t laugh, in the world of safety I’m sure someone will sell it.