Why are we Afraid?

“…..every human brain has not one, but two systems of thought. They called them Systems One and System Two. The ancient Greeks arrived at this conception of humanity a little earlier than scientists-personified the two systems in the form of gods Dionysus and Apollo. We know them better as Feeling and Reason”

Daniel Gardner – The Science of Fear (p.16)

We’ve all been afraid of something at one time or another. The classic situation that I remember as a kid was being afraid of the dark; it haunted me for years and stopped me doing a lot of things. In more recent times, I recall being afraid of two guys who ‘looked like terrorists’ when I was on an international flight soon after 9/11 (more on this later). I recognise that fear has impacted my life in many ways. It can be debilitating, restrictive and a source of much anxiety. Today, I remain fearful of many things; least of all the fear of rejection, loneliness and isolation.

It could be easy though when we are not in the midst of a fearful situation to think that fear has no real influence on how we feel or how we make decisions or judgments. But perhaps this is because we are just not aware of how fear works? If our approach to understanding fear is focused on rational and logical decision-making, perhaps we only understand a small part of the story. In this piece I explore fear and try to understand how it makes us feel, why it can have such an impact on our lives and understand how it impacts on our decisions about risk.


Learning is a Social Activity

As I reflect on the last three years and consider the year ahead, what I recognise as being the most valuable, in fact the single most critical facet of my learning, is that is has been done through communing with others

As many would know, I’ve been on a learning journey (or ‘adventure’ as I prefer to call it) over the past three years in a quest to learn more about people and how we make decisions and judgments about risk. This ‘adventure’ has taken me in many directions, there’s been more than 150 books, countless articles and research papers, formal university activities, essays and conference presentations, all of which I am grateful for and have found valuable.

However, as I reflect on the last three years and consider the year ahead, what I recognise as being the most valuable, in fact the single most critical facet of my learning, is that is has been done through communing with others.

I’ve come to realise that if we are to better understand what it means to learn and understand ‘why’, our attention needs to shift away from focusing on how we gather and process information and data (‘techniques’), to recognise that learning is a social activity. That is, one that is most effective when we share, discover and search for the truth together with others. Humans are communal creatures and learning is a communal (social) activity.

I’m interested in understanding how we can ‘search for the truth’ through communing in risk and safety. I wonder is these questions might be useful for us to consider?

  • What cues can we look and listen out for that might demonstrate the ‘myth of the individual’ as we observe and converse in our organisations? What can we do about this?
  • How do we create forums where we can commune and ‘search for the truth’ through reasonable argument, rather than demonstrate and fester the ‘one-upmanship’ that is so rife in existing forums such as LinkedIn?
  • What can we do to support others to realise the essential nature of communality in understanding learning as a social activity?

We’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.


Please Don’t Try to Fix Me – I’m Not a Machine

It may be that instead of giving us a friendly world that would never challenge us and therefore never make us strong, God gave us a world that would inevitably break our hearts, and compensated for that by planting in our souls the gift of resilience.  (Kushner 2007, p.55)*

My good friend Brian is a ‘tinkerer’, a very good one. If there’s work to be done on a machine Brian is your ‘go to man’. He can analyse, adjust, maintain or fix most things mechanical. For example, I recently bought a second hand lawnmower that wasn’t quite running right. After a few hours with Brian that machine was humming like a new one. Brian sure is talented.

I appreciate having Brian around to help me fix machines when they break, but I would never want, or expect, Brian try to ‘fix’ me at times when I’m not quite running right. Why?

I’m human and need to experience pain and failure in order to learn. I also have feelings and emotions (unlike machines) that at times I don’t understand myself until I take time out to reflect.

If you were to ever feel that I’m not quite running right, I’d appreciate your time, compassion, empathy and conversation but, ‘Please Don’t Try to Fix Me – I’m Not a Machine’. People aren’t objects to be fixed and tinkered with like lawnmowers; we’re ‘beings’ to be understood and ‘meet’.

Challengingly in our modern world, and in particularly in risk and safety, it can be tempting to want to fix people when things are not quite running right. We can struggle to deal with pain and suffering as part of a normal life as we constantly hear messages focused on ‘fixing’, ‘helping’ and ‘preventing’, all of which have their place. But so too do pain, suffering and grief.



* Kushner, H. S. (2007)  Overcoming Life’s Disappointments; Learning from Moses How to Cope with Frustration. Anchor Books. New York. United States

The Village Effect

Being with other people can enhance our well-being and support recovery from injury and illness.

There are many different approaches adopted by organisations to support people injured at work. These include consultant doctors, on-site Physiotherapy, free and confidential psychologists (EAP), ‘case-conferencing’ and specialized rehabilitation providers. All of which can be useful and helpful.

Understandably, the typical approach to treating injuries and illnesses is to send people to specialists in the field related to their injury, and of course this makes sense and most people will recover and return to life and work.

For some people though recovery is delayed or prolonged, and some may experience ‘secondary illnesses’ such as anxiety and depression. The challenges of recovering from injury can be overwhelming. So what can we do when these traditional approaches don’t seem to be working and signs of anxiety or depression start to show?

How might we in risk and safety, go about creating ‘The Village Effect’ in our organisations?