Rhetoric and Reality in Safety
Once upon a time the word ‘rhetoric’ was equated with philosophy and the art of persuasion. It has now degenerated into meaning little more than eloquence with words or linguistic style. It has lost its meaning of being about genuine thinking and purpose. More so, these days rhetoric often refers to the development of ‘spin’ and ‘word smithing’ to support social-political discourse.
My brother use to say that some people are: ‘good at saying nothing really well’ in reference to homiletics and presenting and, I think he’s right. Some are good at entertaining but really offer no ethical meaning in what is presented either in print or speech. The emergence of social media has opened up a platform for many to practice this new meaning of ‘rhetoric’.
A few years back a friend raved on to me about this person called Jordan Peterson and that I should read his book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. So, I bought the book and read it, as painstakingly as I could. I rarely throw away books, if I don’t find a book helpful I usually give it to the Lifeline Bookfair. In this case, I put the book in the bin, I didn’t want anyone else to waste their time on a book that provides no ‘maps of meaning’. Stringing together bits of pop psych and aesthetic bits and pieces offers little meaning, especially when one would expect an ‘ethic of meaning’ and hope in discourse. Peterson’s book captured the new meaning of ‘rhetoric’.
Unfortunately, in political life and the media, we now expect that language has no meaning. Stringing together words and grammar in an appeal to sectarian belief seems more of what politics has become, it certainly is not about genuine belief. As people begin to despair about mainline politics, they now look to the fringes for meaning and purpose. But is Safety any better?
This week we discovered that Boeing has been engaging in ‘safety rhetoric’ (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/21/business/boeing-safety-features-charge.html) regarding the Standard 737 Max plane. After two airline crashes we find that safety features on their planes were only sold as ‘extras’!
The key to understanding rhetoric is through discernment and matching the spruiking of language to reality. Just visit the Boeing website and have a look at all its rhetoric about safety (https://www.boeing.com/company/about-bca/aviation-safety.page). Now match the rhetoric to reality???
Unfortunately, this kind of discourse is common with tier one organisations. You can string together all the ’zero harm’, ‘safety first’, ‘safety is a choice you make’, ‘beyond zero’, ‘all accidents are preventable’ rhetoric you want, but it can never match the reality of fallibility (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/).
It this context rhetoric just becomes spin and propaganda for hidden agenda and has no connection to meaning. This is why the industry needs an ethic of safety and why the maintenance of zero is such a dangerous idea (https://vimeo.com/230093823).