It’s a Fine Line Beyond Pleasure and Pain

It’s a Fine Line Beyond Pleasure and Pain

Safety could be the profession of the open Socratic question, yet again we don’t find much about this in safety texts or training programs. The ‘dumbing down’ of workplaces by the ‘tell, police, punish’ formula has now lead to workplace cultures and organisations that can’t think. It is as if the goal in safety is to cultivate the best lemmings.

imageThis seems to be the popular safety mantra, ‘tell, police, punish’. I’d like a dollar for every time I see a ‘safety reminder’, ‘telling’ people what they already know. When something happens it is assumed that people have forgotten and didn’t listen and have to be ‘told’ again. This is because poor old safety assumes that every problem requires a rational systems solution, a reflection of a primitive anthropological method. So when a mistake or a poor judgment is made, the solution is more information or retelling of the same information. The safety profession seems preoccupied with ‘telling’ because it assumes humans are rational machines. Just look at all the safety bulletins out there that ‘remind’ people of what they already know. I see so many signs about workplaces that demonstrate the epitome of the problem, ‘this is a step’, ‘this door opens outwards’, ‘the water in this urn is hot’ and many more (See This Toaster Is Hot) . The sooner we dispose of the myth of common sense, the sooner this ‘dumb down’ stuff will disappear from our workplaces. It is the myth of common sense that interprets non-conformance as a lack of sense, the same rationalist anthropology at work. Safety seems to assume that ‘stupidity’ is the explanation for everything, a neat and simplistic way to wish away the drama of human complexity.

There is this strange belief in the safety community that the ‘tell, police, punish’ model of data transfer is the ‘formula’ for safety effectiveness. This model believes that avoidance-attraction motivation works. Higgins calls this ‘The Hedonic Principle’ in his excellent book Beyond Pleasure and Pain’. The Hedonic Principle is maintained by a regulatory focus. The formula dominates safety websites, safety conferences and safety books. It is as if the safety profession has gathered all the research on education, motivation and learning for the last 50 years and then decided to ignore it. Information is not education and data is not motivation. The Hedonic formula of ‘telling’ ignores all we know about motivation, learning and perception. The ‘data dump’ formula seems to assume that humans are rational machines, the sum of inputs and outputs, this is BBS heaven. Rather than try and understand the non-rational way humans make decisions the safety assumption is that all failures in decision making in risk are ‘irrational’. Therefore, the solution is yet again another data dump.

Of course, humans are not machines, we are a complex mix of thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, intuitions and experiences. Our decision making is not conditioned by our collection of punitive experiences. Motivation is not the sum of pleasure and pain ‘push and pull’ factors, neither are humans motivated by data. There are plenty of people who know the dangers of obesity and junk food but this information and knowledge of itself does not motivate one to exercise. There are plenty of people who took up smoking knowing the hazards and risks. There are plenty of people who know the law and drink and drive. The safety community can lecture people as much as they want with the data of the Act, Regulations, Standards, Codes, Policies and Procedures but this data on its own does not motivate people to obey them. The solution to non-conformance is not always policing and punishment. Why is it that training in safety doesn’t include the development of skills in motivation, imagination and learning?

A study of the sacrifices and suffering people endure to pursue their goals is fascinating. Why would people be so motivated for a cause that they would strap a bomb to their body and set it off. We have a lot to learn about motivation from a study of people who do such things, have addictions, gamble or follow religions. None of these activities conform to the ‘tell, police, punish’ formula. Some of the time the things we do are not motivated by money, success, power or things but rather, we are driven by relationships with those we love, ideals we treasure and the drive for meaning and purpose.

The recent passing of Chrissie Amphlett (21 April 2013), legendary singer of 1980s band The Divinlys, reminded me of their number one hit ‘Pleasure and Pain’. The recurring phrase in the song is ‘there’s a fine line between pleasure and pain’. When it comes to understanding human choice in risk it’s not a fine line between pleasure and pain but, a fine line BEYOND pleasure and pain. Once again binary opposition thinking blind safety professionals to black and white, it’s zero or infinity, even though both are the same.

The idea that people find meaning and purpose in ‘tell, police, punish’ doesn’t make sense. I can’t think of anything less imaginative and less motivating than counting statistics that are meaningless, LTIs tell us so little they are next to meaningless, most of what safety people attribute to LTIs is constructed and fictional. It is the height of nonsense to attribute cultural value to injury data. BP Horizon One demonstrates the nonsense of using injury data as a measure of culture.

Safety could be the profession of the open Socratic question, yet again we don’t find much about this in safety texts or training programs. The ‘dumbing down’ of workplaces by the ‘tell, police, punish’ formula has now lead to workplace cultures and organisations that can’t think. It is as if the goal in safety is to cultivate the best lemmings.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

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

Latest posts by Dr Rob Long (see all)

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.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below