The Psychic Eﬀect of Safety and What to Do About It
One of the ﬂow on eﬀects of the politics of Safety is unconscious fear. I met a host of oﬃcials in safety associations recently and was overcome with the anxiety of some as we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. I was due to stand up and give a keynote at NAOSH 2018 and the anxiety in demeanour by some was incredible. I might say something controversial? I might drift oﬀ the party line? I might not conform? I might even say something radical? Someone may be oﬀended!
I had a similar experience in Australia recently when I was booked by a safety person to present at a conference. I received a phone call from the CEO two days before the presentation asking for a full script of what I was going to say. I promptly refused the request to present. When you micromanage to that degree you are beyond toxic.
The psychic eﬀect of Safety and Conformity by archetypical nature, teaches the fear of new ideas and dissent. I might even say something like ‘safety isn’t a choice you make’. I might even say that metrics have no meaning. Worse still I might criticise the toxic discourse of zero. After all, the favourite word in Safety is ‘control’. Unfortunately, the psychic eﬀect of Safety encourages anxiety of its own shadow.
Rene Gerard (The Scapegoat) helps explain the psychic eﬀect of ingroup and outgroupness, a fundamental focus of Social Psychology. Gerard helps explain the dynamics of social formation with a focus on mimetic conﬂict and victimage. Gerard contends that the dynamic (mimesis) to belong to the ingroup creates a unanimity that is strengthened by a rejection of ‘otherness’. What emerges through fear is scapegoating, the projection of blame on non-conformists who are either demonised or blamed for self inﬂicted anxiety. This is especially ampliﬁed by the archetypical nature of Safety and results in an attraction to religious discourse evident in the language of belonging and the quest for absolutes. This is most evident in the denial of fallibility and the quest for zero.
The paradox of association in Safety is the politics of agreement. It’s hard to be a ‘broad church’ when your language is religiously shaped by ‘conformance’, ‘regulation’ and ‘compliance’. Such language drives against diversity and quashes creativity, learning and innovation. This is the paradox of binary association in Safety. Unfortunately it motivates the ‘FIGJAM eﬀect’, a social psychological eﬀect most associated with hubris. It is not that people desire this, nor that people are naturally exclusivist but awareness of this psychic eﬀect mitigates against the cultic energy generated by binary safety. A sophisticated deﬁnition of cult-ure (which is missing in the safety literature) would help mitigate against this.
What can be done about the psychic eﬀect of fear in the shadow of conformity and compliance?
1. Read and listen to genres in risk and safety ‘outside the box’
2. Indeed, stop reading safety stuﬀ entirely and pick up material on learning, ethics, politics and communications
3. Change the language of control to the language of inﬂuence
4. Resist and reframe binary expressions in thinking, language and symbols
5. Avoid binary texts that exegete the human mind as ‘fast and slow’
6. Open up discussion and welcome civil and respectful debate and, you won’t ﬁnd this on social media
7. Shift the safety discourse from telling to open questioning and listening
8. Welcome connections with creative, visionary and innovative thinkers outside of the safety industry
9. Become more aware of the limits of association and accreditation
10.Step beyond the binary 1&2 model and redeem safety by not using safety language but people and human-focussed language