The Horse Led To Water

The Horse Led To Water


imageMy romantic entanglement tells a tale of jury duty that I find appropriate to safety. Jury duty has always fascinated me, I get served with notices often but seldom make it past the questions in the selection process.  After sitting eagerly and patiently listening to the patently absurd excuses that each pathetic juror proffers to the judge, I get my turn and answer all questions put to me, only to hear the inevitable, “we’d like to thank and excuse Mr. La Duke for his service”. But my vis-a-vis has yet to be so lucky.  Not only has she been selected, but she has been on a jury and served on a trial. As I mentioned, she tells the story of her experience as a juror. It seems that one of the lawyers was questioning a suspect, and the exchange went something like this:

“Lawyer:  Had you been drinking?

Witness: No sir, I am 10 years sober.

Lawyer: If you don’t drink, why were you in a bar?

Witness: Because I’m a grown-ass man.”

“Because I’m a grown-ass man” the implication being that as an adult he could choose to exercise his God-given right to go where he pleased and make his own decisions.

I think sometimes we forget that when it comes to safety we are dealing with grown-ass men and women who not only have the right to make their own decisions but resent people who have no standing telling us differently.

I have always hated being told what to do, as a child I was indolent and insolent I didn’t want to do work and I was sassy and often disrespectful.  In school, I was worse and let’s just say managing me as an employee is reserved for those leaders single out for singular punishment, I don’t like being told what I HAVE to do.  Point of fact, all I have to do is die. There are people who will tell you that all that is certain in life is death and taxes, but I’m here to tell you, you don’t have to pay taxes; of course, if you don’t, my tax dollars will be spent paying machine-toting thugs to  bash down your compound door and start the other of life’s certainties a reality. That’s why I pay taxes.

When it comes to safety, how I behave is completely my choice and my choice alone. You can tell me you have your safety 10 Commandments and describe all manner of horrific fates that will befall me if I don’t comply, but we both know that you don’t have the power to fire me and even fewer of you have the guts to fire me as long as I shut up and the work gets done.

I feel sorry for people who got into the safety trade to boss people around, waiting to swing the safety baton and rap the knuckles of the great unwashed who dare defy the pure and just ideals of safety.  It ain’t like that kid. In safety, we are often glorified tattletales who run and tell the people who CAN fire us how we misbehaved. Nobody likes a rat and where I come from we have a saying, “snitches end up in ditches”.

Last Great Act of Defiance Women's Plus Size V-NecWhen I was a kid I remember seeing an overly photocopied cartoon of a mouse standing between the descending claws of a hawk.  The mouse stood upright with his middle finger raised; an artist’s interpretation of the last moments of that mouse’s life. The illustration was entitled, “the last great act of defiance.” There’s a lot of safety wisdom in that cartoon.  Sometimes our desire to live our lives as “a grown-ass man” (or woman) is greater than our desire to go home with all our appendages. Some of us, a LOT of us will behave precisely the opposite of the way we’ve been told to. We run with the proverbial scissors, and why? Because in a world where everyone seems to be telling us what to do we will always have the power of defiance.

If I chose to behave unsafely, it’s not always because I am stupid, ignorant, or foolish, it’s because someone like you has told me to behave in a certain way once too often. I will be the horse that you can lead to water but I will be damned if you can make me take a drink.

You talk about engagement, and maybe I should behave safely because it’s the right thing to do, but then again, who are you to lecture me on right from wrong? Treat me like a child and I will behave like a child but treat me as a partner in making the workplace safety, ask me for my advise and listen to what I tell you and I will exceed your wildest expectations.

Phil LaDuke

Phil LaDuke

Principle and Partner at ERM
Phil LaDuke
Phil La Duke is a principle and partner in Environmental Resources Management (ERM) a leading global provider of environmental, health, safety, risk, and social consulting services. With over 140 offices in 40 countries and nearly 6,000 top professionals, ERM can help you wherever you find yourself doing business. At ERM we are committed to providing a service that is consistent, professional, and of the highest quality to create value for our clients. Over the past five years we have worked for more than 50% of the Global Fortune 500 delivering innovative solutions for business and selected government clients helping them understand and manage the sustainability challenges that the world is increasingly facing. Phil works primarily in the Performance and Assurance practice at ERM; a speaker, author, consultant, trainer, provocateur…Phil La Duke wears many hats. As an expert in safety, training, organizational development, and culture change, Phil and ERM can help you motivate your workforce, conduct safety performance assessments, help you to build robust training infrastructures, craft interventions to improve how your work place values safety, provide insights to your executive staff, and craft and execute business solutions. If you’re interested in what Phil La Duke and ERM can do for you, or if you would like to inquire about employment opportunites at ERM, contact Phil at

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