Why Personify Safety?
I spoke at a conference last week and had the unfortunate experience of following a presentation by a regulator. When will safety people get sick and tired of being bombarded with statistics, injury rates, graphs and charts? I have no idea why safety people would want to hear such stuff. I couldn’t think of anything more boring and irrelevant than what I heard. No amount of statistics, graphs or numbers tell us anything about the nature of safety or culture. I often wonder if these regulators know anything about people! Nothing presented was motivating, innovating or visionary. Then at morning tea someone came to me and told me how she wanted to make safety ‘sexy’. No wonder, when you fill the airspace and frame safety conferences with such rubbish.
So much in the safety industry perpetuate myths and madness about graphs, numbers and statistics attributed to have meaning. What is this fixation with mythology that de-motivates, de-humanises and disengages people about risk??? It is as if people do this stuff because they don’t know what else to do. Similarly, when all else fails hire a marketing firm and run a Dumb Ways to Die campaign, Hazardman cartoon, Target Zero program or Silver Bullet initiative! Then in 5 years revisit its failure, measured by mythical measurements and pick another yo-yo from the stockpile, empty the bank account again and wonder why Safety operates as a merry-go-round.
Those who know me know that I write about Safety in various ways. When I have a capital letter for safety, I personify it. In this way I understand Safety as an archetype. An archetype is something that has a life of its own. It has its own energy, dynamic and momentum over and above the people who are engaged in its practice. The power of the archetype (http://www.carl-jung.net/archetypes.html ) is that people act according to its influence, not by their own critical thinking. Indeed, for Safety critical thinking is the enemy. The moment one allows Safety to enter the room everything changes. Whatever you were doing before now becomes qualified by fear, control, don’ts, risk aversion, regulation, dehumanization, numerics, distrust, mechanics and fear (did I repeat that?). When we personify Safety we don’t ask ‘What is Safety?’ we ‘Who is Safety?’. Personification is a marvellous metaphorical semiotic for characterizing something that overpowers and dehumanizes. It enables us to understand that something acts in its own dynamic that is much more powerful than the people in it. When one critiques Safety one critiques an archetype not the people in it, most of who are not aware that the archetype controls them. Most do what they do unconsciously without thinking, Safety makes it so.
Safety is the bastard son of Regulation and Engineering, the brother of Zero and Control, the cousin of Dumb Down and Risk Aversion. (The females in the Safety family don’t rate a mention). Safety was born in Australia about 35 years ago and has been hard at work infusing himself into every corner of business and work. Safety organizes by fear, alienation and the pre-occupation of objects. Safety always talks about ‘things’ not people. Its narcissistic preoccupation with himself imagines that all of life is commanded by himself. Safety’s discourse is one of power over others – other’s must not have choice, other’s can’t think, others are stupid, risk is wrong and only Safety knows best. Safety doesn’t believe he is like this but others identify him as this, yet he denies it. Safety has only relationships with bedfellow power-brokers like Force, Compliance and Bullying but has little time for Listening, Conversation, Trust and Faith.
In groups where Safety is not present the conversation is all about innovation, creativity, fun, adventure and discovery. Life in such groups is defined by social reality and the joy of being human for all its fallibilities. Safety insists that any such talk is demonic and must be banished. Indeed, banning things is the discourse of Safety. Safety is not about Doing or Being but about anti-doing and anti-being, the grand discourse of kill-joy non-living.
However, there are places where Safety can be excluded, where safety can be known, where risk is a reality and Harm is not denied. When you create this place you meet new persons such as Resilience and Courage, Coherence and Emergence. This is where one begins to know Real Risk (http://cart.humandymensions.com/?product=real-risk ) where the fullness of life is not denied but lived. To create such places takes great skill, communality, determination and awareness of what Safety does. In such places people know about risk and safety.
Do I want to be safe, yes. Do I want to know Safety, no.