When ‘Hearts and Minds’ are not ‘Hearts and Minds’

When ‘Hearts and Minds’ are not ‘Hearts and Minds’

imageOne of the profound findings of current neurophysiological and neuropsychological research is that the human person is an embodied mind, not a behaviourist computer on top of a body.

Research by:

Damasio – The Feeling of What Happens; Descartes Error

Varela – The Embodied Mind

Claxton – Intelligence in the Flesh, The Wayward Mind

Ginot – The Neuropsychology of the Unconscious

Robinson – Out of Our Minds

Norrtranders – The User Illusion

Sloman – The Knowledge illusion

Wilson – Strangers to Ourselves

Ramachandran – A Brief Tour of the Unconscious

And, a host of others show that, the brain doesn’t so much make decisions independently as it hosts conversations between the body’s self operating and interdependent endocrine (physical), nervous (electrical) and immune (chemical) systems.

Damasio also talks about the ‘non-conscious’, ‘core-conscious’ and the ‘extended- consciousness’ bodily systems. Humans are an interconnected mysterious powerhouse of ecological embodiment.

Research (Raaven) demonstrates that your heart is not just a pump and that your digestive system is not just a filter for food. Our heart and gut are not just mechanical organs but very much a part of human personhood and being, what we call our ‘mind’. This is reflected in so much of our language.

For example:


‘I’ve had a gutful’

‘You don’t have the guts’

‘Go with your gut’

‘I have butterflies in my stomach’

‘Gut reaction’

‘My gut tells me’

‘I went with gut instinct’

‘He spewed his guts out’ (as in confession)

‘You’re a misery guts’

‘That was a kick in the guts’

‘No guts, no glory’

‘They hate my guts’

‘We busted our guts’

‘What a greedy guts’

‘It was gut wrenching’

‘Yummy, yummy, yummy, I’ve got love in my tummy’

‘Gutless wonder’


‘You don’t have the heart’

‘Cross your heart and hope to die’

‘I had a change of heart’

‘My heart bleeds for you’

‘Aching heart’

‘Be still my beating heart’

‘I love you with all my heart’

‘You were half-hearted’

‘He hardened his heart’

‘Speak heart to heart’

‘My heart is set on it’

‘Their heart is in the right place’

‘Dear to my heart’

‘She tried her heart out’

‘She stole my heart’

‘I’m only being light hearted’

‘A broken heart’

‘Heart break’

‘Warms the cockles of my heart’

‘The heart of the matter’

‘Take heart’

‘Faint hearted’

‘My hearts desire’

‘Young at heart’

‘Learned by heart’

‘My heart was in my mouth’


‘Mind your own business’

‘Do you mind?’

‘Mind your step’

‘That’s a load off my mind’

‘We’re like minded’

‘He changed his mind’

‘Blew my mind’

‘The mind boggles’

‘Don’t mind me’

‘Frame of mind’

‘She has a good mind’

‘Peace of mind’

‘Back of mind’

‘Open mind’

‘Make up your mind’

‘Mind over matter’

‘A mind of its own’

‘I have half a mind to …’

‘The mind’s eye’

‘Never mind’

‘One track mind’

‘Speak your mind’

Our semiotics (symbols), semantics (language) and discourse (embedded power) that we think of humans as an embodied person. Why should this matter to risk and safety people?

I’ve really been appreciating Burns and Novick’s The Vietnam War on Netflix. The documentary makes the point on many occasions of how the US tried to win over the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Vietnamese people. The trouble was the campaign was in name only. History shows that the US didn’t understand the culture of the Vietnamese and this is why it’s ‘hearts and mind campaign’ actually became a factor in how the Communists could easily recruit people from the South to their cause.

Unless ‘hearts and minds’ is holistic, it has little likelihood of working. An excellent overview of how the hearts and minds idea originated is discussed here: http://www.safetydifferently.com/the-original-hearts-and-minds-campaign-and-the-dereliction-of-behavior-based-safety/

When I review the literature on ‘hearts and minds’ in safety it appears that this is often in name only. The brand often supports a behaviourist campaign rather than a holistic understanding of humans as embodied persons. Yet, behaviourist safety flocks to it:






Many describe ‘hearts and minds’ as a ‘behaviourist toolkit’.

We already know that behaviourism is a curse upon safety (https://safetyrisk.net/the-curse-of-behaviourism/ ). If you treat humans as behaviourist objects the outcome is brutalism, dehumanizing and policing. When your symbols and process are about injury rates and zero, it’s not possible to be holistic or consider the human as an embodied person. When Safety identifies itself as the curator of gloves, glasses, hard hats and boots, what chance is there to focus on the person wearing such PPE?

This is why behaviourism is so popular in safety. Behaviourism fuels the love of zero and the fixation on counting.

Thinking holistically about mental health is going to be a huge challenge for Safety emerging into the future. So, here are some key questions to consider:

  1. How can Safety progress in a focus on mental health and a holistic approach to human personhood when all of the symbols and language of zero dominates the sector?

  2. How can Safety work in a holistic way when its global mantra is zero?

  3. When all organisations foster is TRIFFR and LTIs and the flood of data, how can they shift the emphasis to humans as whole persons.

  4. How can Safety shift a focus to humans as subjects when its discourse and iconography is always about objects?

  5. When will Safety consider the whole mind and, human as persons in the way people are trained?

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.

13 Replies to “When ‘Hearts and Minds’ are not ‘Hearts and Minds’”

  1. Perhaps our consciousness emerges from the complex of neurons we have in our gut, heart and mind. The biomedical approach is the bane of our future existence and it is enlightening to see research suggesting we will need holistic methods. With the newly developed “Technician” in Safety (Canadian Registered Safety Technician – a step down from the Canadian Registered Safety Professional), it tells me Safety is enamoured with technique and doesn’t understand holism. I think there are allied professions that are doing a better job than Safety at caring for the whole person. Maybe we need to lead a new way and leave Safety behind for the purveyors of PPE.

    1. Suzanne, I have been researching this for many years, along with many others and strange how lots of this merges in with what Western society dismissed hundreds of years ago about ancient peoples. We used to call these ‘primitive’ societies and when I look at Western greed and destruction of the planet, I wonder who is primitive??? The research shows not just that we are embodied as a mind but that we are embodied in the environment. You will find this helpful:
      The seduction of technique (the lust for total efficiency) is best discussed by Ellul in The Technological Society (https://ratical.org/ratville/AoS/TheTechnologicalSociety.pdf). A common theme in all of this, and the seduction of zero is the denial of fallibility and the rejection of imperfection in human frailty and vulnerability.
      You are right, the allied professions are far more holistic and better educated by a mile than safety. Indeed, safety is not even understood as a caring industry and so thinks of itself as ‘managing hazards’ rather than ‘tackling risk’. Safety will never be a profession unless it enters into the real world of fallible people and helping and caring, which is why it will turn itself into knots over the mental health and well being issue. It is simply not educated enough to understand the issues.
      Love your description ‘purveyors of PPE’ so true. As long as people are in uniform and boxed checked everything is safe.
      Amazing that in just 30 years this industry has been so enculturated in scientism that it has no interest in reform or learning and its curriculum proves it. Very sad.

  2. Safety uses Ikea logic, which manifest as unbearable frustration and maladaptive anxiety when trying to assemble their chipboard trash.

    On a more serious note your post had me thumbing through the late Phillip Knightley’s The First Casualty, which focused heavily on the WHAM propaganda during the Vietnam War.

    Phillip Knightley went to Kogarah High School, which produced some pretty smart students, including Clive James and Bryan Brown.

    With assistance from John Pilger he disclosed the Thalidomide scandal and the corporate turpitude involving United Distillers, which is now Diageo.

    If you think safety stinks don’t even go near pharmacovigilance, food safety, herbicides and pesticides.

  3. Bernard, unfortunately Safety is more interested in tagging extension leads that big picture stuff. Zero is the ideology of myopic risk and this involves little thinking. The big picture stuff requires a sophisticated sense of critical thinking which is not part of any safety curriculum.

  4. Rob, i have watched the documentary that you mentioned about the Vietnam war and enjoyed it tremendously. Just shows how placing targets causes under or over reporting as in the case of the war. I also agree with the comment that Farbton many safety persons focus on the small stuff which causes irritation and adds little value. we can’t fix everything and therefore we should choose our battles and focus on what matters. Kind Regards Brian Darlington

  5. Brian, one thing that struck me about Vietnam and the US is the obsession with statistics and the delusion that statistics say something. None of the statistics of Vietnam meant anything to a people who lost so much but were driven by a culture and ideology that couldn’t be measured which the Americans largely ignored at their own peril. The documentary makes so clear the delusional politics and propaganda of the campaign and the outcomes of such delusions. I’m not sure Safety is much different. The fixation with zero, counting and behaviourism is so similar whilst understanding culture and ideology is completely ignored indeed, is not even defined but rather confused as culture, which it is not. A target is not just a target, a goal is not just a goal but rather a language that primes and frames the way organisations do safety.

  6. Dear Rob,

    What astounds me the most is Safety’s belief that it is intellectually superior and any challenges or criticism towards its extremely narrow ideology are categorised as heresy and ruthlessly oppressed. As soon as the acolytes of Abaddon are removed from the confines of James Reason et al the furrowed brows appear and Omen’s dark fog clouds come sweeping in from the north.

    There is not too much in the curricula covering Mary Douglas, Simone de Beauvoir, Susan Sontag, Ellul, Ricoeur, Feyerabend, Kuhn, Sartre, Camus, Fromm and the Frankfurt school.

  7. This is because it doesn’t know it’s own religion or have the religious intellect to understand its own rituals, ideology or ontology. Build a stronger fortress wall, spin the spin and double the paperwork. Demonise criticism because everything that is non-compliant is evil. That’s the way to maintain dumb down. And, the global mantra for safety is zero. Says it all.

  8. Dear Rob,

    Happy new year. I just take one look at the writing on Linked In and Facebook and it is the language of bar parlour bores or trailer park trash. It is littered with exclamation marks, which is like eating in the street!!!!!!! The majority of safety acolytes who use these platforms are merely empty vessels and often manage to slur one syllable words. Many believe their role is to make the corporate or project safety manager look good and conveniently disregard the primary object of safety legislation, which is to secure the health and safety of people at work!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Bernard, Blessings for a good year. You forgot to mention how LinkedIn teaches people to SHOUT at others when they want to WIN some point. Of course, this couldn’t be there is something outside their field of knowledge they don’t understand, safety engineering knows all. So without even a common hermeneutic the other must be stupid, so exclamation marks and SHOUTING. That’s the way.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below