Wrong-Headed Safety

So much about the safety industry is about wrong thinking. The STEM-only worldview has us convinced that good safety is about rationality and cognition. This worldview has us convinced in typical binary framing that the emotions and rationality are opposites. Yet this is not how we live.

imageThis worldview had led the industry to believe that if one can get the thinking right then safety will be achieved. Under this worldview unsafety is deemed a brain disorder because the human brain is considered to function like a computer. This brain as computer metaphor dominates the safety industry and holds it back from realising weaknesses, other disciplinary views and tackling risk holistically.

It’s no surprise that most of what we do is not connected to a command centre located in the head. Unfortunately the safety industry even makes the words ‘brain’ and ‘mind’ interchangeable. Such is the problem in considering human being as embodied and bodily enacted.

In 1996 I founded a school for highly abused young people, the school was called Galilee and is still running today. I wrote about Galilee in my first book. Every young person in the school presented with experiences none of us could imagine. To get into Galilee one had to have experienced: physical and sexual abuse, extreme violence, school failure and dropout, homelessness, detention and incarceration in a correctional facility, firefighting, severe mental health issues, drug/substance abuse and addiction, family and relationship breakdown, exploitation and abuse of others usually children and related traumas to all these matters. All of the young people were amazingly resilient and resourceful and intelligent. And, none of the pathways to healing, wholeness or therapy involved reprogramming thinking. The success of the school was because typical cognitive behavioural approaches were rejected. Galilee’s success was because we focused on the whole person, especially social context.

Each young person was an emotionally charged dynamo of harm, violence and powderkeg of feelings. The school started with 12 young people and after 3 years had 36 young people due to its astounding success. I developed the methodology for Galilee and called it the social psychological learning education and support environment (PLEASE). I learned a great deal from working with and observing this microcosm of trauma that I was later to establish with traumatised adults in rehab program for Allianz Insurance called ‘WorkAssist’.

When people are traumatised we learn quickly that recovery has little to do with reprogramming rationality or brain activity. Trauma is embodied not em-brained and the scars of harm are held in the emotions that can flare up in an instant by a sound, experience or social moment. In Galilee we saw these dramatics everyday and needed special staff who knew that these dramatics had nothing to do with wrong thinking. Indeed, we struggled to find staff who had not been indoctrinated with the brain as computer metaphor. Which meant we employed very few teachers and social workers.

Often people who have suffered trauma return to a place of abuse because it is familiar and the re-enactment of harm provides comfort. We found this in all cases at Galilee and in WorkAssist. To the indoctrinated in binary rationalism this looks like self-sabotage but it is not. One cannot bring STEM-only thinking to the dynamics of trauma. The enactments of trauma don’t make sense to the logics of STEM or rational cognitive thinking.

Research indicates that a significant level of the population carry various forms of trauma as is evidenced by rising levels of depression, anxiety, suicide and substance abuse (https://www1.racgp.org.au/newsgp/clinical/mental-health-issues-increasing-among-australians). What is needed more than ever is not resilience understood as ‘engineering’ but an ecological understanding of humans as holistic embodied beings that are neither programmed, engineered or controlled. When we move away from a view of ‘problems’ as ‘wrong headed ness’ then we might envision new ways of tackling resilience, mental health and safety.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
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.

8 Replies to “Wrong-Headed Safety”

Do you have any thoughts? Please share them below