There is no ‘Satellite Insightfulness’
Dr Rob Long’s Response to a recent Guest Post:
When we imagine that there is a rational and objective self we will always look at others and their behaviour and create a superior status for ourselves because we would never do that. When we take this view we then become the masters of others, this is the classic safety officer position, saving others against themselves because they are stupid (irrational) and only I can see what’s wrong.
After reading a recent piece I thought it would be good to present a different view.
It is important to understand for people in risk and safety that many of our behaviours are unconscious only to be rationalized later, to propose that being in a state of automaticity is ‘un-sightful behaviour’ is a nonsense. This presupposes that distractions, misdirection, daydreaming or a host of mind wandering processes triggered by social psychological causes have something to do with ‘insight’ or are somehow part of some rational process. Unless we develop some understanding of human consciousness we will end up projecting or attributing blame to behaviours we either don’t understand or don’t agree with. If anyone is ‘caught in their own bubble’ it is those who seek closure in understanding behaviour, who want a rational explanation when in reality the judgments we make about the behavior of others is not definitive and at best ambiguous. As Pascal, the brilliant French mathematician pointed out: ‘the heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing’.
The idea that we can ‘step outside’ of ourselves in some ‘satellite insightfulness’ is also fanciful. This says much more about the need to have objective certainty and rational cause, than it does about the reality of human subjectivity. Indeed, the beginning of wisdom is the realization that we cannot step outside of our own subjectivities and that this is not a bad thing. The idea of scientific objectivity was blown out of the water when Thomas Kuhn released his work ‘The Logic of Scientific Revolutions’ in 1962. Since then, and with an avalanche of research and work on objectivity and subjectivity by post modernists, few would advocate the idea of an objective reality.
As for putting myself in an ‘external orientation orbit’, this is not the pathway to developing effective observation and listening skills. The key to developing effective observation and listening skills is an understand of self, our biases and the filters we use in our observations. There is no ‘putting one outside of self’ as suggested by this article indeed, this is a trap and delusion that supports the idea that observations are objective. One of the greatest problems I see with most of the incident investigation training on the market to day is this myth of the objective observer. One of the first things I do in my SEEK Investigator Training is spend the first two days on understanding our subjectivities as a clue to effective observation. The mythology of the objective investigator is perpetuated by Donnelly’s view. The very expression ‘everyone has a reason why they do the things they do’ totally misunderstands the human condition and how humans make decisions. The sooner people in risk and safety understand the social and psychological forces that trigger judgment, the sooner we will get away from this blaming perspective that Donnelly advocates.
Humans are complex and social, there is rarely a single internal reason for behavior. Many human behaviours operate without ‘thinking’, we develop heuristics so we can function on automatic. When interruptions, circumstance changes or the turbulence of life comes our way we get caught out in automatic and most often the ‘mistake’ is no one ‘s fault, there is no blame. When we imagine that there is a rational and objective self we will always look at others and their behavior and create a superior status for ourselves because we would never do that. When we take this view we then become the masters of others, this is the classic safety officer position, saving others against themselves because they are stupid (irrational) and only I can see what’s wrong. This leads someone to state ‘you need to be insightful of their behavior and way of thinking, you need to be able to see dangers that they might not comprehend’. So now the role of safety advisor is that of mind reader. This is the nonsense position one ends up in thinking in the assumptions of Donnelly’s objectivity theory. The key to understanding the thinking of others is conversation and listening, not trusting in some absurd idea such as ‘satellite insightfulness’. This simplistic and patronizing view ends up projecting such comments on others as ‘I know what you’re like and I know you’re a bit of a thrill seeker, but while you’re at work, be careful, and slow down and don’t take risks’.
So, if ‘we all need to seek a little understanding of what makes other people tick’ as Donnelly asserts, perhaps ‘we’ could begin with a better understanding of self, social psychology and the process of learning. This simplistic view presented by this article doesn’t represent human complexity nor the way we should approach others with a view to safety and risk. There is no ‘satellite insightfulness’ rather, there is a mature journey in understanding self and others, human behavior and decision making in a way that creates respect, wisdom, ownership and insight in managing risk.