What Can ‘Safety’ Learn From a Rock?
I live in Australia, a country inhabited by people from many cultures, a country with a strong indigenous history and a country with a geography that is well summed up by poet Dorothea Mackellar in her poem My Country;
“I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains. I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror – The wide brown land for me!” (read the full poem here)
Australia is a beautiful land with so much richness and history. We have much to see, to explore and to understand. But if we limit our view of the world, and if we were to explore our ‘wide brown land’ by looking at our many wondrous features only as “objects” and one dimensionally by relying only on our sight, we would miss so much.
When we don’t use all of our senses, as well as our heart and mind to explore and understand our world, we limit our learning, our understanding and most importantly our living. When we take a more holistic view of the world, open our eyes to look at things as more than objects, when we use all of our senses to feel, taste, hear and smell, what we might experience could really enhance our lives.
I recently had the privilege of visiting Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock), which is right in the heart of Australia. I’d wanted to visit for many years (it was on the bucket list) to see, feel, hear and discover for myself the many wonderful things that I had read and heard about ‘the rock’.
For some, visiting Uluru is considered a holiday, a visit to a tourist destination, which of course it is. More than 400,000 people visit Uluru each year and it is one of Australia’s most well know tourist attractions. It’s also a significant geographical landmark, some 348 meters high, 3.6 kilometres long and 1.9 kilometres wide. It is around 10 kilometres to walk around the rock.
But what makes Uluru really special is it’s history, it’s place in our indigenous culture and a place that means that it is much more than just an ‘object’, it is part of the ‘land’.
To look at Uluru as simply a rock, or geographical phenomenon would be like looking at your husband and wife just as a human body, or looking at your home just as a building. If we really want to understand ‘the rock’, we need to use more than just our eyes to ‘see it’, we need to understand its history and significance for our indigenous brothers and sisters.
“To understand our law, our culture and our relationship to the physical and spiritual world, you must begin with land. Everything about aboriginal society is inextricably woven with, and connected to, land. Culture is the land, the land and spirituality of aboriginal people, our cultural beliefs or reason for existence is the land. You take that away and you take away our reason for existence. We have grown that land up. We are dancing, singing, and painting for the land. We are celebrating the land. Removed from our lands, we are literally removed from ourselves.” Mick Dodson (former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Commissioner)
The Aboriginal people don’t just see a rock, they see part of ‘the land’. They don’t just look at Uluru’s amazing change of colors, at it’s many and varied textures or at its incredibly overwhelming size as an ‘object’, to them it has far greater meaning. To them Uluru is a place of spirituality, of history, of culture and a place that is sacred. Uluru is not just a rock.
So why am I writing about this on a blog dedicated to risk and safety? What can ‘safety’ learn from a rock?
I wonder whether our workplaces are also places of spirituality and of culture, and instead of understanding this, are we too easily seduced into seeing things in our workplaces just as ‘objects’. Whether at work (plant, equipment, tools), at home (furniture, paintings, buildings) or in our community (parks, vehicles, structures), it can be easy to view things as ‘objects’, but is there is much more to them then their just being ‘things’ before our eyes?
When we use all of our senses, as well as our heart and mind to explore, to understand, to listen, to touch, to feel, to taste, to live with such ‘objects’ we can experience so much more.
I suspect it’s easy to look at ‘objects’ and think only of their purpose, rather than considering; who uses them, what ‘objects’ mean to the user, and how they are interacted with. Looking at a tool solely as an object means that we don’t even need to ‘know’ about the user, it’s just the ‘object’ that is our concern. Imagine if the Aboriginal people looked at Uluru simply as a rock? They would discount all of their history, their spirituality and the feeling for the ‘land’.
So what lessons might we take from the Aboriginal people in how they experiences objects?
One example might be to consider Kapi Mutitjulu (which means Listen to Country), a beautiful and quite waterhole tucked away on the eastern side of Uluru. It is a a place where the Aboriginals gathered for water, but was also a great place to capture animals who also went there for water. De and I took the 50 metre or so walking track into the hole from the main track and just stood their in silence. We then read a sign which had these words:
This is a good place to listen to country. Take a minute to sit down, close your eyes and breathe deeply. Enjoy this moment. Listen to the birds. Can you hear the water trickling? Concentrate on the wind. Can you hear it? Feel it? Kuniya is a strong women, this place has a strong feeling.
I do wonder whether we should take the advice from this sign more often in risk and safety? Should we just sit and listen? Should we concentrate on what is happening around us and experience our world with more than just sight? Should we tune in more to our feelings and emotions rather falling for the seduction of just looking at objects?
Even if we are just to use our eyes and sight to look at an object, should we believe what we see when we first look? Another amazing feature of Uluru is that it looks so different depending on how and where you see it. From almost every angle we looked at Uluru, we saw something different. Whether that be from a distance where it looks smooth and peaceful, from the air where you could see all of the crevices and rough textures or while standing right in front of it and looking up in awe, this rock sure is more than an ‘object’.
Are we too easily seduced to looking at things only as ‘objects’ in risk and safety? Do we use all of our senses, our hearts, our minds, and tap into our spirituality when we are experiencing our world? Or do we limit our views by using only our eyes to make decisions and judgments. If we are to support people to understand and deal with risk, do we need to better understand spirituality and beliefs? Are we prepared to open up our bodies and minds to experience things more deeply and aim to understand, or are we satisfied to see something as fact and make assumptions because that’s easy, and then move onto the next challenge.
What Can ‘Safety’ Learn From a Rock…..
As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.
Author: Robert Sams
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