Culture is NOT ‘What We Do Around Here!’

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.

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Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

7 Replies to “Culture is NOT ‘What We Do Around Here!’”

  1. I recently heard a classic description of the AIHS BoK Ethics and Professional Practice as resembling…….”A handful of pakahpu tickets in a Canal Street opium den”

    1. The BoK on Ethics is no different to the one on Culture. So much missing and therefore misleading. At least it acknowledges the complexity of culture where as the deontological ethic of the BoK on Ethics doesn’t.

  2. I don’t understand the point made i.e. “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”.

    Aren’t gestures “something we do”? Aren’t slogans something done/said? Aren’t myths something done/recounted? aren’t mantra’s something done/said?

    1. James, thanks for your question. An understanding of semiotics is critical to understanding culture and the collective unconscious. It would take much more space than here to fully respond to your questions.
      We may see a gesture but that is not its meaning, most of what occurs in a gesture is hidden in long held rituals, beliefs and values. I may shake someone’s hand but it depends on one’s culture to what that means.
      Similarly, a mantra has a small aspect of visibility but this is not what its about. If one observes a person spinning a TIbetan Prayer Wheel is this what one observes? If prayer is a gesture is this its cultural meaning?
      If one thinks reality is held in the behavioural act then one misses all that is hidden in an act and artefact. Similarly, I can say ‘trust me’ and mean the opposite, we cannot see intent, motivation or the psychology of goals in taking words and language at face value. Culture gives context and meaning to the things we do in a circularity that evades behavioural observation.
      And so in the slogan ‘what we do around here’ we see not only the emphasis on doing but an absence of inclusion of ‘being’. All metaphors disguise omissions.
      Further, all symbols are the reverse of attached myths, they are the flip side of the same coin, one might see a symbol but to know its myth requires extensive cultural knowledge and familiarity with what it represents. eg. a swashtika.
      To really understand the power of a semiotic is to know how it affects the unconscious, eg. the power of Zero. Zero is an ideological mantra but one needs to understanding of how ideologies work, how propaganda works, the trajectory of myths, psychology of goals and the longitudinal affects one cannot see at the time. Any denial of human fallibility must have an unethical outcome but you don’t see this in the binary language of targets and goals.
      Ideology is mostly hidden in the message and ideology like faith and religion get no mention in the BoK on Culture, hmmm? Yet, if I want to understand Chinese culture I have a bit of homework to do on all three. Further, no mention of politics or history in the BoK on Culture of note either. So, by focusing on a materialist behaviourist definition of culture (evident in the BoK on Culture) in ‘what we do around here’ has the unconscious affect of limiting how one views culture, again the evidence is in the BoK on Culture. Safety (as an archetype) tends to miss the boat when it comes to other critical aspects of culture indeed, one doesn’t even see them as relevant or significant for understanding culture. When limited to the visible one doesn’t look for the invisible.

  3. The power of the collective unconscious is well recognised by every major advertising agency. Just look at the cost of running a TV commercial at half-time during the Super Bowl. Much of this was reiterated by Vance Packard in The Hidden Persuaders.

    Semiotics was the bible for Bryce Courtney, Alex Hamill et al during their tenure at George Pattersons and for that wonderful epitome of Australian culture, John Singleton at JSA.

    However, good old Safety persists with its mechanistic PDCA model supplemented by the black box psychology of cognitive behavioursm with an inordinate reliance on rational decision making.

    The AIHS is like the dead parrot (Na it’s just restin’ squire and shagged out after its long squawk of zero harm and Safety is our No. 1 priority).

    It was interesting listening to an Ardent Leisure senior executive during yesterday’s media conference……Safety is our No.1 priority yet the organisation still worships the Friedman doctrine.

  4. We see in plain view how Marketing and Propaganda know how to communicate to the unconscious and yet Safety only pays attention to the visible hazard not the cultural and psychological myths that support them. The delusions of BBS has done greater harm than a host of physical hazards and is nothing more than than the creation of a whole new market of well being, mental health care and managing bullying in organisations in the name of safety.

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