So many things shape and influence culture and such simplistic ideas as ‘structure shapes culture’ (Hopkins) could only be thought up by Safety. As usual, the opposite is the case (Lotman).
Of course, you won’t find anything about Linguistics in the Safety curriculum. This is why it is so easy for Safety to speak nonsense to people:
I asked a recent group studying culture to list what they perceive as the 10 most common safety beliefs (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-beliefs-as-cultural-indicators/). Just from this sample we note the connection between language and belief. Many of these beliefs and associated language operate as cultural memes (https://safetyrisk.net/culture-silences-in-safety-memes/). And at no time are assumptions and methodology articulated or disclosed. This is also a common cultural attribute of safety.
It is really quite straight forward. How can you preach zero to fallible people?
It is such a simple question and yet Safety has no answer, neither does it ever articulate the philosophy/ideology behind such belief. Similarly, other simplistic memes like: ‘safety is a choice you make’ and, ‘all accidents are preventable’. Both statements are complete nonsense and hide an ideology that fuels brutalism.
It really is quite straight forward. Just keep repeating to a child the word ‘loser’ and see what happens. Just repeatedly call a group ‘hoons’ or ‘bogans’ and see what happens. Just keep repeating the language ‘Psychosocial hazards’ and see what you get.
Language changes us and the world. Here is some research on the matter:
One of the best books any person in safety could read is Metaphors We Live By (Lakoff and Johnson) Indeed, such a text ought to be the foundation for learning in safety.
We know from all the research into the development of language that language is acquired through gesture, symbol, para-linguistics and embodiment. The acquisition of language is NOT a brain-computer thing but rather a whole-of-body thing (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311436117_The_embodied_development_of_language). Therefore, the shaping of culture primarily comes through para-linguistics.
We know that children learn how to speak and write long after they have learned how to communicate (https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00506/full). Years before a child can speak or write they learn to communicate through gesture and sign. Language is an embodied semiotic that exists in the Semiosphere (Lotman). Language is not just the stringing together of a few words. Language is not just a brain activity. Indeed, every metaphor we use (where we describe something by what it isn’t) comes from a symbolic and gestural understanding of being.
You would have thought that if messaging was important to safety that it would have some interest in Linguistics. Sadly, no.
If you are interested in a positive, constructive and practical approach to messaging in tackling risk there is a workshop available in SPoR (https://cllr.com.au/product/linguistics-flyer-unit-21/) that helps. And who knows, maybe such study might help develop an understanding of cultural influence. One thing is for sure, you will get nothing from a belief that supposes culture is ‘what we do around here’.
Crista Vesel says
Thanks, Rob. Language matters in all that we do and we cannot ignore the power and pitfalls that exist when we communicate at work. I have many of the resources that you list, but always appreciate your openness to sharing with us! Lera Boroditsky is a source that I use all the time, as are Lakoff & Johnson.
Rob Long says
Thanks Christa, yes Boroditsky is brilliant too.