Another really enjoyable and thought provoking article by Dr Robert Long. There is no learning without risk, risk is not the enemy. Just think of all the inventions and pleasures of life we enjoy had not our pioneers taken risks.
If There was a Risk Gene, Would you Engineer it Out?
Ever since 1996 when the first mammal was cloned from a somatic cell, we have become de-sensitised to the idea of eugenics. Eugenics is the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at ‘improving’ the genetic composition of the human population. With advances in knowledge about DNA and the human gene pool, some scientists claim the ability to now clone a human being (http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500202_162-4961152.html). If this were really possible, I wonder how many crusaders of risk and safety would want to engineer out the ‘risk gene’?
When one reads the ideas of many people in the risk and safety sector, one could be forgiven for thinking that risk in itself is an evil. Many tier one mining and construction companies make as their pledge the total elimination of risk. Some large risk and safety consulting companies demonise the concept of risk. So if there were a risk gene, would they think it would be good to engineer it out of the human population?
Some scientists believe that Stathmin is the ‘risk gene’ (http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2005/12.01/05-fear.html). Experiments have shown that the level of stathmin in animals either raises fear or elevates risk taking. Whether it is or not, I wonder how many risk and safety crusaders would think it would be a good idea to engineer it out of the human population? If we eliminate risk what are we really doing? What does the language of risk elimination ‘prime’ in the minds of others? What kind of anthropology desires humans without the risk gene?
My five year old granddaughter has recently developed a passion for climbing trees. Of course, my legs and arms can’t manipulate like they used to so I am usually confined to standing on the ground and watching her. As she gets higher up the tree the more pleasure she gets from the experience, the more I worry as a grandfather about her naivety. She loves the joy of climbing and even more the calls of ‘look at me’ as if to proudly show her talent and ability. However, if I was to call her down, I would be doing so for my own anxiety. If you don’t climb trees how do you ever learn about heights, dexterity and balance? If she falls, as unfortunate as that might be, that would be the trade off we had made of risk for learning. As she climbs down, she learns about her own fears and limits, it’s not something that she can learn from being told. When she is safely on the ground I am delighted in her safety but also her ability and what she has learned. Tomorrow she will climb a different tree and use today’s knowledge to help her to climb in a different way.
Sometimes when I hear various consultants in safety talk about ‘total risk elimination’ I wonder what they think makes an educated person? I wonder if they would have ever started their business in safety without the risk gene? Why do people think such language of ‘total risk elimination’ is attractive or desirable? Do they not know that the discourse of ‘risk elimination’ is also the discourse of anti-learning. There is no learning without risk, risk is not the enemy. Just think of all the inventions and pleasures of life we enjoy had not our pioneers taken risks.
The more we ‘talk’ about ‘risk elimination’ to people who by the very nature of their jobs have to take high risks, the more we alienate them from the safety message. They hear this nonsense ‘talk’ and think the CEO or Manager is out of touch with reality. So, all this idealistic, eugenic and perfectionist language that comes out of the mouths of safety crusaders simply alienates workers and drives a dangerous level of skepticism and cynicism in the workforce. If the goal is ‘total risk elimination’, why get out of bed in the morning? The language of ‘total risk elimination’ is nonsense. The message should not be ‘risk is evil’ but rather ‘risk safely’.