Please Don’t Try to Fix Me – I’m Not a Machine

Please Don’t Try to Fix Me – I’m Not a Machine

Blue botMy good friend Brian is a ‘tinkerer’, a very good one. If there’s work to be done on a machine Brian is your ‘go to man’. He can analyse, adjust, maintain or fix most things mechanical. For example, I recently bought a second hand lawnmower that wasn’t quite running right. After a few hours with Brian that machine was humming like a new one. Brian sure is talented.

I appreciate having Brian around to help me fix machines when they break, but I would never want, or expect, Brian try to ‘fix’ me at times when I’m not quite running right. Why?

I’m human and need to experience pain and failure in order to learn. I also have feelings and emotions (unlike machines) that at times I don’t understand myself until I take time out to reflect.

If you were to ever feel that I’m not quite running right, I’d appreciate your time, compassion, empathy and conversation but, ‘Please Don’t Try to Fix Me – I’m Not a Machine’. People aren’t objects to be fixed and tinkered with like lawnmowers; we’re ‘beings’ to be understood and ‘meet’.

Challengingly in our modern world, and in particularly in risk and safety, it can be tempting to want to fix people when things are not quite running right. We can struggle to deal with pain and suffering as part of a normal life as we constantly hear messages focused on ‘fixing’, ‘helping’ and ‘preventing’, all of which have their place. But so too do pain, suffering and grief.

Pain and suffering, while difficult at the time we experience them, are a part of what it means to grow, mature and develop as a human. But try telling that to a mother who has just lost a child or someone recently diagnosed with cancer. Of course, life is rarely as simple as one thing or another (good or bad) so we need to be cautious not to get caught in the trap of binary thinking. The point to be made here is that pain and suffering are just as essential for human development and growth as good times, success and happiness, and rather than being good or bad, that can be a ‘messy’ proposition to comprehend.

So why is the desire to ‘fix’ so tempting? Explicitly why are we drawn to fixing and trying to eliminate pain and suffering, rather than accepting that it is part of developing and growing?

This question is not an easy one to answer, and perhaps there is no absolute answer for it, however Kushner (2007) in suggesting that;

It may be that instead of giving us a friendly world that would never challenge us and therefore never make us strong, God gave us a world that would inevitably break our hearts, and compensated for that by planting in our souls the gift of resilience. (Kushner 2007, p.55)

may provide some insight as to why we struggle to find a positive side to pain and suffering. When one is in the midst of pain and suffering and experiencing all of the feelings and emotions that go with pain, it may be difficult to understand that such pain may be “the gift of resilience”. So this is one explanation for why we may be easily tempted to move to ‘fixing’, that is we can’t or don’t see it as a gift, but is there others?

An awareness of the attraction of ‘reductionism’ is also critical in understanding why we are fixated on fixing. So what is reductionism?

Sidney Dekker in Chapter Three of his book Drift Into Failure (2011) provides a useful history and analysis of how the reductionist approach is enacted in the risk and safety:

Newton and Descartes’ ideas have pretty much set the agenda for how we, in the West, think about science, about truth, about cause and effect. And how we think about accidents, about their causes, and what we should do to prevent them. Today these effects have become so ingrained, so subtle, so invisible, so transparent, so taken for granted, that we might not even be aware that much of the language we speak, and much of the thinking and work we do in safety and accident prevention, is modelled after their ideas. (Dekker 2011, p. 53)

A reductionist approach assumes simplistically, that once problem parts and symptoms can be identified, then conditions may be cured or fixed. We hear this often played out in the language of risk and safety through ‘cause and effect’. Adopting such an approach means that people are treating more like objects than beings. It means that they can be broken down and repaired, just like a second hand lawnmower. When we treat people as objects, the result is ‘dehumanising’.

So if we recognise firstly that accepting pain and suffering may create resilyence and support growth, and secondly that our temptation to ‘reduce’ in order to fix, dehumanises people in our society and workforce, what can we do in order to be more mindful of these things? These questions may be helpful:

  • What are the cues we can look out for, or develop to recognise that we might be adopting ‘reductionist’ methods in our systems, language and methods?
  • How do we create and/or maintain meaningful relationships in our lives so that compassion, empathy and listening, rather than ‘fixing’ become more intuitive for us all?
  • How do we share a message that pain and suffering can provide opportunities for growth and build resilience, in a way that people don’t think we are being sadistic and seeking harm on people? That is, how do we move away from binary thinking?

We’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.



Author: Robert Sams

Phone: 0424 037 112



Facebook: Follow Dolphyn on Facebook


Dekker, S. (2011) Drift Into Failure. From Hunting Broken Parts to Understanding Complex Systems. Ashgate Publishing Company. Surrey. England.

Kushner, H. S. (2007) Overcoming Life’s Disappointments; Learning from Moses How to Cope with Frustration Anchor Books. New York. United States

Rob Sams
Rob Sams
Rob is an experienced safety and people professional, having worked in a broad range of industries and work environments, including manufacturing, professional services (building and facilities maintenance), healthcare, transport, automotive, sales and marketing. He is a passionate leader who enjoys supporting people and organizations through periods of change. Rob specializes in making the challenges of risk and safety more understandable in the workplace. He uses his substantial skills and formal training in leadership, social psychology of risk and coaching to help organizations understand how to better manage people, risk and performance. Rob builds relationships and "scaffolds" people development and change so that organizations can achieve the meaningful goals they set for themselves. While Rob has specialist knowledge in systems, his passion is in making systems useable for people and organizations. In many ways, Rob is a translator; he interprets the complex language of processes, regulations and legislation into meaningful and practical tasks. Rob uses his knowledge of social psychology to help people and organizations filter the many pressures they are made anxious about by regulators and various media. He is able to bring the many complexities of systems demands down to earth to a relevant and practical level.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below