Risk, Safety and the Armstrong Factor
Guest post by Dr Robert Long – see all of his recent articles HERE
We witnessed this week the ‘fall from grace’ of Lance Armstrong. We have recently witnessed the ‘fall from grace’ of Tiger Woods, Shane Warne and numerous politicians. What is it about the fallibility of others that surprises us? Why are we so surprised to find out that other human beings are not perfect?
The idiom ‘fall from grace’ or ‘the fall’, comes from the Bible and refers to the story of Adam and Eve. The story of the first humans tells of the fundamental characteristics of what it is to be human. But we don’t need a story to tell us that we are fallible, we experience it every day. Early Babylonian, Greek, Sumerian and Persian cultures all tell stories of similar ‘falls’ of first humans. The fall also explains why we are just as fascinated by stories of super humans and super heroes.
Perfectionism is a delusional disposition that drives humans to try and attain a flawless ideal. Perfectionism is associated with numerous psychological disorders such as acute anxiety and depression, eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Perfectionism should not be confused with striving to be excellent but is rather a condition that insists on being ‘perfect’. It is one thing to propose to have high standards and quite another to propose the attainment of super-human standards. Neither does this mean that we must accept mediocrity but rather have that mature balance of realistic endeavours within the bounds of human fallibility.
Perfectionism damages relationships and leads to destructive behaviours. Recent studies of students undertaking the Higher School Certificate in NSW showed that the stress of perfectionism on many year 12 students was a cause of drug dependence, cheating and a range of mental health disorders (http://hsc.csu.edu.au/pdhpe/core1/focus/focus1_2/4004/1-2-2/health_pri1_2_2_6.htm). There is nothing more destructive than unreal expectations. When we set goals for ourselves and others we must not get caught up in the absurdity of binary opposition thinking (https://safetyrisk.net/2012/06/18/binary-opposites-and-safety-goal-strategy/). Binary opposition thinking is the foundation for the perfectionist delusion. Life is not about fundamentalist black and white but maturity is achieved in understanding that the best human colour is grey.
As we watch magazines portray young girls with airbrushed ‘perfect’ bodies and perfect features we know what an epidemic this causes in eating disorders and crushing effects on young girls. It seems there is no reward for being ‘average’ or being normal if you read such magazines.
Narcissism is self-perceived perfectionism that leads to delusional self image and results in disproportionate levels of anger, shame and anxiety in relationships. A Narcissist must have the total admiration of others and will do anything to attract it.
When we set absurd goals we should not be surprised that this makes cheating look attractive. I don’t excuse Lance Armstrong’s behavior but I understand his motivations and how our absurd sporting culture drives such behavior. Our quest for superhero sports stars destroys our most successful athletes on a daily basis. It is not surprising when we learn about how some of our sporting heroes maintain a secret life of depression and drug dependence over many years.
My little granddaughter is just learning to swim and is afraid to put her head under the water. Her fear is very real and this is made more confronting because her older sister swims freely underwater (after having overcome her own fear). It’s funny watching the little sister seek approval when she tells us she went under, and when she tells us, her hair is not wet. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful force when rational approval is desired. We don’t tell her she looks silly and her hair is dry but rather continue to play games, be patient and have fun knowing the moment will come when she will take the step and go under. There is no reward for terrorizing a child to do something against their will. We have to be more sophisticated about learning than to just ‘chuck them in the deep end’. Such thinking is always good for other people and has no idea of empathy for the fear of others. Unhealthy fear is anti-learning and perfectionism is the driver of such fear.
Perfectionism is anti-learning. There is no great motivation, inspiration or joy in the terror of super human absolutes.
When it comes to the way we manage risk and safety at work we need to know about the destructiveness of perfectionism. We need to know that effective leadership is about setting attainable and realistic expectations. Perfectionism by its nature drives under-reporting. Perfectionism normalises fear. Perfectionism is destructive to effective communications about risk and distorts health and mature demands on relationships.
Author’s Resource Box
Dr Robert Long
PhD., (UWS) BEd., (USA) BTh., (SCD) MEd., (Syd) MOH (La Trobe), Dip T., Dip Min., MACE, CFSIA.
Executive Director – Human Dymensions Pty Ltd
Rob has a creative career in teaching, education, community services, government and management.
Rob is engaged by organisations because of his expertise in culture, learning, risk and social psychology. He is a skilled presenter and designer of learning events, training and curriculum.
Web Link: www.humandymensions.com