Making Language in Safety Meaningful

Making Language in Safety Meaningful

Kakutani (The Death of Truth) helps us understand the power of confusion and doubt with the strategy of ‘fake news’ in the common era (https://www.amazon.com/Death-Truth-Notes-Falsehood-Trump/dp/0525574824 ). This was captured splendidly in the documentary Merchants of Doubt (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqiCLuOtXts&pbjreload=10). Merchants of Doubt should be compulsory viewing for all safety people. One doesn’t have to prove things are right or wrong these days, just propagate doubt and then watch the anti-vaxxers and conspiracy fans flock to the Kool Aid.

Kakutani shows that the strategy of blurring the meaning of language is critical for eroding the meaning of facts, truth and evidence. This is why the study of historiography and linguistics should be essential for safety people. Surely the skills of sifting evidence, sorting testimony in first and second hand evidence, critical analysis of language and bias, interrogation of assumptions and critical thinking about methodology ought to be essential skills for any incident investigation. We tackle all of these skills in the SEEK program (https://cllr.com.au/product/seek-the-social-psyvhology-of-event-investigations-unit-2/ ).

When words such as ‘zero’ don’t actually mean ‘zero’ but are used to promote propaganda then people in safety ought to be concerned about making safety meaningful. The recent fad use of the word ‘disruption’ is a case in point. I have seen so much spin about this word that it has virtually become meaningless. Similarly, putting a positive spin on words and language that is clearly not positive is also a strategy of the confusion/doubt school of thought. Perhaps watch the episode of Four Corners this coming Monday to get an idea of this ideology (http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/populist-revolution/10176996  ). All of this ideology masked in confusion and doubt disguises real intent and motive. Zero is both an ideology and a language that masks underlying political power in the name of safety but has a toxic trajectory against any clear ‘ethic of safety’. Safety cannot be safety unless it includes respect, trust, integrity, compassion, tolerance and care.

Now I don’t mind if people want to use the language ‘zero harm’ but if they want to be true to the language then it has to be meaningful. Zero harm cannot mean selective harm. Zero cannot mean one, it either means nothing or eternity. I discussed all of this in my second book For the Love of Zero (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/for-the-love-of-zero/) and to some extent in my latest book Fallibility and Risk (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/).

Surely if one professes ‘zero harm’ it cannot mean one choses what harm one addresses and what harm one ignores.

We learned recently in a study that ‘Bad Bosses Can Make Employees Sick’ (http://www.songhanhphuc.org/study-reveals-that-a-bad-boss-can-make-employees-sick/) and that alcohol is harmful (https://safetyrisk.net/no-alcohol-for-the-true-believers/). Where in the safety literature in zero harm is there discussion and concern about such forms of harm. Why is it that the zero harm ideology says so little on social and psychological harm? Where is the zero harm literature on the harm of bullying, authoritarianism and intolerance by bosses at work, as a source of harm? Could it be that the ideology of intolerance embedded in zero actually contributes and encourages such intolerance? Could it be, that speaking absolutes to fallible humans is used to justify the rule of absolute power over those who fail? Could it be that the language of zero fosters the problem of toxic workplaces? Maybe that’s why people turn to the harm (and pleasure) by alcohol to offset the harm of the workplace? In either case, there won’t be any action taken by the zero harmers on either of these issues, because it doesn’t suit the ideological discourse.

Kakutani (p. 83) argues that using language that ‘borders between the real and the virtual, the actual and the imagined, the human and the post-human blurs, overlaps and even collapses’ sense in meaning. Once language is eroded and we can make anything mean anything then we are left with reliance on absolute power and the myth/symbol of opinion that declares what is ethical and what is not. Then those in power can declare that intolerance and domination is good in the name of safety, that bullying and blame is good in the name of safety and that force and compliance are the same as care because Safety (Zero) says so.

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.

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