The Sacred Bra Tree
“When we begin to understand the significance of Bra Trees and roadside memorials then we might learn something about culture and why zero is such a dangerous sacrament”
It’s not likely that you have ever seen a ‘Bra Tree’, a rare species of Australian eucalyptus in the Murray/Mallee about 40 kms west of Mildura near Euston, Victoria. The Bra Tree has been made a sacred tree because it is a memorial. Whilst hanging bras in a tree might not make sense, it certainly makes sense to all those who knew the person who died. What we learn from the Bra Tree is a great deal about the human quest for the sacred and transcendence. In light of the mystery of life, suffering, harm and death we all in some way create ways of remembering those we love. When words seem empty and insufficient at the passing of a loved one, a semiotic (symbol) can say much more.
When we understand the power of symbols and icons (https://safetyrisk.net/the-iconography-of-safety/ ), then we begin to understand the unconscious power these symbols have on the human psyche. Those who think words, text, language, icons and symbols have little unconscious significance need to see what happens when they try to take away a semiotic of significance. Deface something at a church or temple, suggest not using a risk matrix or injury pyramid, suggest not counting trifr or, dare I say it, suggest dropping the sacred symbol of zero from an organizational risk policy. You will soon find out how sacred the object, symbol or process is.
When something is made sacred it then becomes a sacrament. The risk matrix, pyramids, curves, bow ties, swiss cheese and dominoes and a host of other objects and processes have all taken on sacramental significance in the safetyosphere. This is despite the fact that few of these sacraments actually assist in tackling risk. Most risk semiotics create comfort, theatre and cosmetics but offer very little rational method for tackling risk. Certainly none of these can be used to demonstrate that risk in an organization is being effectively managed: https://vimeo.com/162493843
We learn from a study of semiotics that a sign simply points in a direction and it only says one thing. Whereas a symbol/myth says much more than itself and can speak many meanings in different ways to different people. An understanding of semiotics and the unconscious is critical to understanding people, motivation, perception and the process of sacralisation. Memorial semiotics tell us so much about what a person believes about: humans, life, transcendence, faith, hope and living. Some people keep an object that was special to the person as a memorial, some may have a special photo, a piece of jewelry or others make some thing or place a memorial. We can learn much about the power of objects-made-sacred when we try to take that thing away or when it is lost.
We see other memorials on the side of the road to loved ones passed away through road accidents. This one below is on the side of the road between Goulburn and Sydney and is elaborate in the many objects it has left as a semiotic of significance to the person who has died. The memorial includes: photos, flowers, poems, dragons, angels, a bronze plaque, crosses, bottles, a cap and toys, all with symbolic significance to the person who died.
Fallible humans make things ‘sacred’ in the midst of a world that seems so profane. When humans run out of words, rational explanations, text and systems that don’t help, they turn to semiotics to say what can’t be said. Eliad in The Sacred and Profane, The Nature of Religion (1957, p. 12) states: ‘By manifesting the sacred, any object becomes something else, yet it continues to remain itself, for it continues to participate in its surrounding cosmic milieu’.
The greater the ideology and semiotics of zero takes hold in the safetyosphere as sanctioned by the World Congress on Safety 2017 and other peak bodies, the more it is made a sacrament.
Unfortunately, one cannot remain ‘agnostic’ about the semiotic of zero. In the light of all we know about the power of semiotics one can’t say on the one hand that knowledge is important and then on the other state that one doesn’t know about the danger of zero: https://vimeo.com/230093823 There is nothing more nonsensical, unethical (https://safetyrisk.net/how-can-the-ideology-of-zero-be-ethical/) and demotivating than speaking absolutes to fallible humans.
The making of sacraments is about the semiotics of transcendence, seeking the absolute in frustration with fallibility. This is the religious process. One can’t understand culture or define culture without an understanding of religious semiology, except that it gets no mention in the SIA BoK on culture. Good olde Safety stuck in defining culture as ‘what we do around here’ and ‘if it can’t be measured it can’t be managed’ nonsense. Safety needs a good dose of reading Yelle (2013) Semiotics of Religion in order to understand just how religious it has become under the rubric of zero. Unfortunately, immersed in so much STEM-only knowledge that is not likely.
When we begin to understand the significance of Bra Trees and roadside memorials then we might learn something about culture and why zero is such a dangerous sacrament.