Originally posted on October 9, 2020 @ 10:41 AM
Listening, Learning, Helping and Caring about Risk
I was with a group of managers yesterday and as I often do asked them to list the words they associate with safety. We brainstorm in teams for a bit and then once each team has 10 words we put them in rank order from most important to least important. It’s not a complex process but is always revealing.
I have been doing this activity for a long time as a part of education in the Social Psychology of Risk (SPoR) and have a database of thousands of these ‘language audits’. We also do a similar audit with safety policy documents and something always stands out. The four words Listening, Learning, Helping and Caring are never associated by participants with the activity of risk and safety. You probably know what the most common language is associated with safety. What does this say about the industry, it’s training, body of knowledge and curriculum that these four most important words are not part of the Safetyosphere? Surely an indictment of a punishing industry that is bogged down in paperwork, regulation and brutalism. Results from the zero survey (https://safetyrisk.net/take-the-zero-survey/) with a thousand responses also confirm these findings.
When we do this activity we discover what Safety is silent about and compare it to what Safety is noisy about. And everyone confirms that they know this is the way it is. The discussion then eschews that nothing can be done about it, there is no other way and everyone settles back to the brutalism-as-normal worldview. The AIHS BoK on Ethics confirms (p.9) that the character of the industry is ‘unscrupulous and Machiavellian’ and yet maintains the discourse of ‘professional’ as if the two can co-exist.
The real problem behind this culture of brutalism is a fixed sense of safety as a policing activity and a fixation on objects, and there seems no vision for a way of difference. There seems no vision that articulates a way forward away from the malaise of entrapment in systems, metrics, numerics, objects and policing.
So, along comes Covid19, a perfect poster child for an ongoing fixation on objects, systems and policing. I would guess that if I did a ‘language audit’ associated with Covid, the same silence on Listening, Learning, Helping and Caring would emerge. But it need not be this way, the language of Caring, Helping, Learning and Listening should be the foundation of how this industry tackles risk and seeks to be professional.
Again, where is the vision to move away from this love of stasis and the entrapment in brutalism? Well, certainly not in the formal associations where even discourse in Mental Health remains individualistic, behavioristic and at a loss as what to do or how to move forward. Even when the word ‘vision’ is used in the safety industry, the discourse is yet again packed in numerics (https://safetyrisk.net/its-always-a-number/). There is no vision in more numerics, no vision in keeping things as they are.
Of course, when we do an activity in SPoR like the one mentioned above I always ask if people like it this way and the answer is uniformly no! People would love to work in a workplace where the culture of safety was about Caring, Helping, Learning and Listening. Well, it doesn’t have to be that way which is why SPoR envisions a more practical and humanized way of tackling risk.
Rob Long says
Discernment and miseducation, greed and self interest, no vision for the Faith-Hope-Love-Justice dialectic.
Rob Long says
Katharina, send an email to email@example.com
Why is the world going to hell:
Rob Long says
Thanks Katharina, you describe Zero so well and all that associate with the Archetype of tyranny masked as good. I would love to send you a copy of my latest book 9 in my series on risk. It’s an ebook up for sale in a week but I would love to give you a copy for free. It’s called Envisioning Risk and names all that lacks vision at the moment, including Safety and its lover Zero.
Rob Long says
Wynand, unfortunately in this age of ‘dumb down’ if you show compassion it is branded as being a ‘leftie’ whatever that means.
I want to refer to the comment you made about Covid-19 and associated lack of care in the words of an Afrikaans writer Elsa Jounert who passed away at 97 from Covid-19: ““We are in the last months and weeks of our lives,” she wrote, “and we who live in homes or institutions, however wonderful, are totally cut off from our family members. I’m suffering. Telephone calls, and videos, and Skype, and much more help, but it’s not enough. It’s not the same,” she wrote in the letter addressed to her house doctor Hans Woermann.” The only response I could find was a mention of her in a speech of pres Ramaphosa: “We pay tribute to the spirited defenders of our heritage that we have sadly lost this year.
We have lost Achmat Dangor and Elsa Joubert, two celebrated authors whose works gave expression to the human condition under apartheid.”
How sad that human compassion was swept away under the fear of Covid-19, and how interesting that the management of the preventative measures ended up on the tables of safety functionaries who had very limited knowledge of epidemiology.
Katharina Pfeiffer says
Dear Rob, great Article again!
This is in my opinion the core problem in most industry as well as in the small companies of this planet. This is what leads to global warming, Covid- ignorance and many other big problems we have. Problems that we will leave to our descendants.
From what I feel, this kind of leadership, in safety as well as anywhere else, results from people whose basic character is not resilient. Who does not like himself cannot approach others. (Why are they so many?) Then other strategies are sought to make decisions in a simple way. That results in this “alpha dog” behavior. In human culture, this still unfortunately still is the easiest way to the result. the way for lazy people. Bark at the other one, then run away- don’t listen. Feel better than the other one.
The will to try a different form of leadership only comes when the enterprise is practically driven to the wall. And even then it takes a very resilient person with endless energy to break through this wall of non-perception and turn a venture into lasting success through the use of means as Listening, Learning, Helping and Caring.
You, your Team and your blogs encourage me again and again on this way.
Thank you very much for energizing me and probably many others on this mission.
With best regards,
Katharina from Germany