The Tyranny of Absolutes

Guest Post by Dr Rob Long from www.humandymensions.com – for those of you who still have nothing to love!

The text book approach to goal setting recommends that all goals should be SMART – Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Time considered. Yet, when it comes to safety and risk many tier 1 companies throw the goal setting rulebook out the window.

The Tyranny of Absolutes

Depositphotos_13982165_xs

Many think that setting goals is a simple matter, and in some ways it is. Goals are an essential part of strategy, prioritization, motivation, recognition and the humanization of work. The text book approach to goal setting recommends that all goals should be SMART – Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Time considered. Yet, when it comes to safety and risk many tier 1 companies throw the goal setting rulebook out the window. They set goals for others that they would never set for themselves in management, set goals justified by ‘aspiration’ that are unachievable, set goals whose language ‘primes’ failure and ignore the psychology of goals that considers longitudinal by-products of goal setting.

My granddaughter is just learning to swim, I take her to swimming classes each Saturday, it is an appointment I would never miss, not just because I fly away all week for work but it is delight to see her motivated, learning and happy. It is also refreshing to see young swimming instructors who know the fundamentals of setting goals and motivation. The pool is a buzz with recognition, positivity and joy. There is no talk of aspiring to swim 100 metres in 26 seconds because such talk ‘primes’ failure and de-motivates. The instructors knows that each in the group is individual and all have different capabilities, some are yet to develop full coordination, others have fears of water. Chastising failure and mistakes is the quickest way to deflate these dear little souls and turn them off swimming forever. Learning to swim is of course, a life saving enterprise. How bizarre would it be to de-motivate children to swim and therefore put their lives at risk, simply because the instructor didn’t know how to set achievable goals and motivate.

Higgins (Beyond Pleasure and Pain) reminds us that motivation is about much more than just pleasure and pain, coercion and persuasion, compliance and defiance. Human motivation is much more complex than just the carrot and stick the hedonic principle). Carrot and stick thinking ignores thinking about the by-products of goal setting. Carrot and stick thinking assumes an anthropology of humans-as-machines, the foundation of behaviourism. That way when humans ‘break down’, make mistakes or develop a psychosis, we can resort to blaming in order to feel superior about ourselves. The carrot and stick model of motivation enables the leaders in love with absolutes, to project failure on to others and strategically ignore an holistic counting of harm. Unless safety can step beyond the hedonic principle industry will continue to attribute success to behaviourist perfectionist discourse. Without some understanding of the motivations by belonging, value, control and truth, the mythology of motivation by compliance and the tyranny of absolutes will continue to appeal to non-leaders in safety and risk.

I was in a training group this week when an engineer stated I was ‘naïve’ about zero. He stated that zero was achievable and he knew of a gas and petroleum company that had achieved zero. When I asked him if zero could be guaranteed in the future or over what time period, he said I was naïve. When I asked him had he seen the research on harm caused by Fly-in Fly-out (FIFO) practices (http://www.miningaustralia.com.au/news/fifo-damages-regional-communities-report), he had not. When I suggested that mental-health such as clinical depression, anxiety disorders and relationship damage were forms of harm caused by FIFO practice, he quickly brought out his expert psychological competence and stated that such people were ‘weak’. Apparently the FIFO practices of his exemplar gas and petroleum company were exempt from the research. When I suggested that the language of zero ideology and zero discourse ‘primed’ populations for failure he dug deep into his repository of social psychological expertise and told me such was ‘gobbeldygook’. When I asked him if he had children and did he help them learn by absolutes he said no. How convenient it is to be schizophrenic in goal setting behaviour. It seems absolutes and perfectionist goals are always good for other people. Absolute goals are damaging non-human goals, absolute language de-motivates fallible humans, absolutes create language gymnastics, blindsidedness and spin, absolutes drive humans to hiding, denial and projection, there is no ‘understanding’ or empathy in absolutes, no tolerance in absolutes, no forgiveness in absolutes – absolutes create a culture of tyranny.

I have a friend at the moment seeking work as a safety advisor and he has been hunting on seek.com.au for 4 weeks and is struggling to find a tier 1 company without the discourse, ideology and language of zero. Many of the companies now advertise for ‘zero-harm’ advisors and desire ‘zero-harm reporting. Strange how the tyranny of absolutes appeals to the leaders of such companies, perhaps zero has become a new form of addiction to denial?

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

Latest posts by Dr Rob Long (see all)

Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below