The Mystery and Paradox of Being an Individual in a Social World

I had the privilege today to meet up with a friend, one who I’ve known for a while, yet up until today we’d not had the opportunity to meet in person, so we both made the time and effort to catch up.

We shared in a wholesome conversation, one where we wrestled with the tension and paradoxical challenges that we all experience in a life of; ‘being an individual in a social world[1]. More on this theme soon, first though I’d like to share a little about the conversation itself.

It was a mostly unexpected discussion, not planned other than the time and venue. Much emerged as we sat with each other and there were moments that felt like ‘meeting’ (Buber); where it was just the two of us. This, despite being in a place with many other people. There was little in terms of agenda, so the conversation just flowed.

We found ourselves conversing on many personal topics including; addiction, pain and suicide. I accept these are not topics ordinarily discussed amongst friends, as for many, they are taboo. But this didn’t stop us. Our conversation was more meaningful, honest and deeper than most, while also uplifting, stimulating and enriching.

Afterwards as I reflected on how easy the conversation seemed, I pondered on what made it feel easy. It certainly wasn’t the topics; although ironically maybe it was? One thing I did recognise though was that having little agenda, meant that there were also minimal expectations. Maybe that created a greater chance of just ‘being’ with each other?

This caused me to think back to times where I previously thought I was having similar conversations while working in Safety. Although, comparing the type of conversation I shared in today with those while working in Safety isn’t really possible, because those conversations are typically full (even overflowing) with agenda; around control, fixing, and correcting behaviour.

Thankfully, my conversations have changed in recent years; they are now more regularly focused on the other person, especially when they are the ones who seek out the conversation. It has not always been like this though, as ‘telling’ is a hard habit to, firstly acknowledge, and then break. I regularly fall back into the trap of telling, but thankfully not during this conversation.

This point reminds me of something that Carl Rogers, the founder of ‘person centred therapy’, wrote during a reflection of his own practice in his book On Becoming a Person (1961):

“One brief way of describing the change which has taken place in me is to say that in my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change the person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” (p. 32)

This resonates strongly with me; how about you?

Read the full post, first published HERE.

Social Sensemaking – Auckland Workshop – 14 May 2018

So What is Social Sensemaking?

As author Rob Sams notes, the book and the idea itself of ‘sensemaking’, was born from a search for a more humanistic approach and methodology to supporting people to deal with risk. That is because to make sense of risk, we need to commune and converse with others; that is, it is a social activity.

The book is a collaboration of stories and experiences in how we make sense of decisions and judgments; particularly about risk. It questions the traditional controlling and dictating methods that can be too easily adopted by the Risk, Safety and HR fields, and offers ideas that are more ‘humanising’.

So what can you expect in this Workshop?

In this practical and interactive presentation, we take participants through a number of the tools presented in the book including ‘One Brain Three Minds’©*, the ‘Trade-offs’ model© and the ‘Decision Tree’©.

We also share some of the challenges of moving toward a more holistic understanding and application of risk in the workplace. This includes how we’ve dealt with our own cognitive dissonance after many years of practicing the traditional approach that was focused on control, rather than understanding and supporting people so that they may better discern risk for themselves.



Program Outline

The presentation is broken into three sections, including:

1. Better understanding our Self in order to understand (and communicate with) others

  • Our different perceptions – how we all ‘think’ differently
  • Tools and Models to better understand ‘sensemaking’ including One Brain Three Minds©* – a model to decision making (introducing the conscious and non-conscious in decision making), the Decision Tree© and the Trade Offs Model©.
  • Personality Types – a short introduction to the Jungian Four Temperament types and why these matter in communication. This will be a very practical introduction rather than one based solely on theory.

2. The role of the non-conscious in communication.

  • Tackling a ‘Telling’ Society- the gentle art of asking more and telling less
  • Being aware of our own agenda ‘Suspending’ our own agenda
  • Understanding why this is so hard – what is it about our society that makes listening challenging and telling easy?

3. Making Sense of Risk – a Social Perspective

  • We are social beings, what role does this play in communication?
  • How we make sense of things through interacting and conversing with others

The Workshop will provide practical, interactive and hands on experiences to embed learning. This will include providing models and tools for participants to ‘take-away’ and apply in their work environment.

Take-aways and Tools

Everyone attending the Workshop will recieve a copy of Social Sensemaking along with the various tools and models noted above.

Book Your Place

*used with permission Dr Robert Long

Human Being and Becoming

I’m enjoying reading David G. Benner’s Human Being and Becoming ( at the moment; I’m on my third read.

Here are some quotes from the read on my flight home this afternoon:

“Ultimately, we need a meaning that will be strong enough to make suffering sufferable… But for meaning to be useful, it has to help us live a life as it actually is, not as we wish it might be” (p. 40)

“One of the worst things a psychotherapist can do is to relieve people of their suffering before they have helped them discover its meaning” (p. 41)

“Showing hospitality to suffering starts with releasing that inner constriction. Letting it go makes space for you to meet and show hospitality to the uninvited guest that has suddenly appeared in your home. Rather than trying to drive suffering out, get to know it. Listen to it – to the questions it asks of you, not the questions you want to ask of it.” (p. 42)

“What we need is not to figure out the meaning of life but to discover a meaningful way of living life. For this to happen, we must allow the meaning to emerge from life itself, not what we can get out of it. This is the essence of spirituality, which is, as its core, a way of living in relation to a self-transcendent framework of meaning and purpose”. (p.43)

“Meaningful ways of living are never found in the safety of an armchair or ivory tower. They are found in the risky, vulnerable places of real life. They are found in living, not in books, lectures or sermons. Ideas presented in books may come to form a place in a meaningful life, but if they are to help make suffering sufferable and life meaningful, they will always be rooted in an openness to and affirmation of, life as it is.” (p. 46)

I was gifted my copy and would like to reciprocate. If you would like a copy, share your thoughts on the reflections above and I’ll to pass on.

Human Being and Becoming.

Rob Sams

In This Together

The Importance of Social Identity in Health – Including Dealing with Pain

We know that humans are social beings. That is, we long for, and need connection with others. It is at the very heart of what it means to our being as a human. We know also that on the flip side of this is that social isolation is one of the greatest causes of depression and anxiety.

In this article we highlight the power in our social connections and the importance of social identity in our overall health; including pain and injury. This short piece includes a number of references and links to different articles and papers that explore the role that ‘community’ can play in adopting a more holistic approach to health. We’d love to hear your feedback.

How the modern world makes us mentally ill

Published by: The Book of Life

In this piece, published on The Book of Life website, the author considers how our busy modern world may be making us sick. In response to this they offer that:

“A cure would be a culture that endlessly promotes the idea that perfection is not within our grasp – that being mentally slightly (and at points very) unwell is an inescapable part of the human condition and that what we need above all are good friends with whom we can sit and honestly discuss our real fears and vulnerabilities.”

Read the full article HERE.

“In this together”: Social identification predicts health outcomes (via self-efficacy) in a chronic disease self-management program

Published by: Social Science and Medicine

The Abstract of this scientific journal publication notes that:

“Self-management programs are an established approach to helping people cope with the challenges of chronic disease, but the psychological mechanisms underlying their effectiveness are not fully understood. A key assumption of self-management interventions is that enhancing people’s self-efficacy (e.g., via the development of relevant skills and behaviours) encourages adaptive health-related behaviors and improved health outcomes. However, the group-based nature of the programs allows for the possibility that identification with other program members is itself a social psychological platform for positive changes in illness-related confidence (i.e., group-derived efficacy) and physical and mental health.”

Read the full article HERE.

The town that’s found a potent cure for illness – community

Published by:  in The Guardian

In this piece, the author George offers that:

It could, if the results stand up, be one of the most dramatic medical breakthroughs of recent decades. It could transform treatment regimes, save lives, and save health services a fortune. Is it a drug? A device? A surgical procedure? No, it’s a newfangled intervention called community.

Read the full article HERE.

The power of social connections and the rise of social prescribing

By: Daniel Frings

In this article, published on the Psychologyitbetter website, the write suggests that:

“One way of dealing with stress is to draw on the positive social identities in our lives. A growing body of research suggests that the social connections we have can buffer us from the effects of traumatic events, improve mental health and also let us bounce back from physical ailments more quickly. In the guise of ‘social prescribing’, this idea is also increasingly being used to find ways to replace or compliment medicine.:

Read the full article HERE.

The village effect

By: Robert Sams

In this previous blog article, I offer that:

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?

If we are interested in exploring options outside of the traditional approaches, we could learn a thing or two from Susan Pinker who, in her book The Village Effect, explores “how face-to-face contact can make us healthier, happier and smarter”. Being with other people can enhance our well-being and support recovery from injury and illness.

Read the full article HERE.

Book Recommendation:

Making Sense of Illness: The Social Psychology of Health and Disease

By: Alan Radley

I referenced this book, and others by Radley when I wrote my paper titled Why is the mental health of workers so poorly dealt with by organisations? ( which I wrote as part of my studies in The Social Psychology of Risk. This paper was for Unit 6 – Holistic Ergonomics.

The Goodreads website notes about the book Making Sense of Illness:

This book is a “must read” for all students of health psychology, and will be of considerable interest and value to others interested in the field. The discipline has not involved itself with the central issues of this book so far, but Radley has now brought this material together in an accessible way, offering important new perspectives, and directions for the discipline. This book goes a long way towards making sense for, and of, health psychology’ – Journal of Health Psychology

What are people’s beliefs about health? What do they do when they feel ill? Why do they go to the doctor? How do they live with chronic disease?

Read more about the book HERE.

Full book siting: Radley, A. (1994) Making Sense of Illness: The Social Psychology of Health and Disease. SAGE Publications. London

Introducing Hayden Collins

An Addition to our Community in Practice

This month we introduce one of our Community in Practice, Hayden Collins.

Hayden Collins is a specialist in risk, human judgement and decision making, organisational culture, leadership, communication and learning. Hayden provides training, advice, coaching and mentoring for leaders, managers, supervisors and workers.

Hayden is able to help organisations apply the fundamentals of social psychology to leadership and team development. He has developed and delivered training programs covering a range of subjects including; risk and safety leadership, organisational culture awareness and assessment, and communication and team-building.

Hayden has 13 years experience in leadership roles within large Tier 1 national and multinational organisations across a range of industries including: heavy industrial manufacturing, FMCG manufacturing and construction.

Hayden currently lives in Melbourne with his wife Olivia. He enjoys learning about himself and his environment, spending spare time exploring the arts and culture of Melbourne, reading philosophy, and meaningful conversations with friends.

Hayden has the following qualifications:

  • Graduate Diploma  in the Social Psychology of Risk
  • Graduate Certificate in OH&S
  • Advanced  Diploma in Environmental Technology,
  • Certificate IV Training & Assessment,
  • MPTI Facilitator Certification – Stage 1 and 2 (Coaching)
  • RABQSA-OH (Management Systems Auditing)

You can learn more about Hayden and his work at Risk Intelligence HERE.

March 2018

Pilot Program with BlueScope

Social Sensemaking Program

The team at Dolphyn continue our work with BlueScope, piloting our Social Sensemaking program across sites in NSW and QLD.

We start with the MiProfile Survey (developed by Dr Rob Long, see – which helps us better understand how sites or the organisation as a whole, think collectively and unconsciously.

Rob Sams, along with Gab Carlton from Resilyence ( who has many years experience in conducting the survey, work with Hayden Collins from Risk Intelligence (, who’s analytical and critical thinking skills mean that we can challenge assumptions and support organisational learning through conducting the survey.

The outcomes of the Mi-Profile are then presented to the site along with recommendations for a tailor made program that is aimed to address challenges, and support strengths, identified within the organisation. These programs are delivered by Dolphyn’s experience team who all have post-graduate qualifications in The Social Psychology of Risk.

One of the keys to the success of our program with BlueScope is the upskilling of their internal team as we progress through it. BlueScope’s leading manager on the project, Stephanie O’Dwyer, who is now studying with the CLLR (, has been co-facilitating many of the workshops with Rob Sams. This provides a more holistic learning and change program for BlueScope that will also ensure its sustainability.

Stephanie recently started a session in Brisbane by asking; “what’s the riskiest thing  you’ve done?”.

The learning started from there.

March 2018

Fallibility and Risk

Book Forward

Like it or not, I was once a ‘Crusader’. I lived a life dedicated to ‘saving’ people; from themselves, from others, from ‘things’. Who else could perform such a critical role? After all I was a Safety Manager, and with that, a bastion of all knowledge about risk. I even had a consulting business named Dolphin Safety Solutions.

I’d put some thought into this name as dolphins were something special to me; they are great communicators, they travel together and look out for each other and they are known for their intelligence. But what did I really understand of intelligence?

While intelligence is great, if we don’t understand our ontology (reason for being) or how we ‘know’ (epistemology), we can easily be deceived into thinking that such knowing will lead us to a happy, fulfilling and rewarding life.

Our modern world seems to place a special value on intelligence. However, if the only reason for knowing is to be the ‘smartest person in the room’, that to me indicates a life of ‘I’ rather than ‘thou’ (Buber). A tension that we all must live with if we are to be fallible beings in this world?

Welcome to Fallibility and Risk, a book not for the feint hearted, but one that just may challenge you enough to push you into ‘cognitive dissonance’.

This is a book about life and also about death, about risk and also security. This book may provide some answers, but maybe raise many more questions. This I’ve learnt, is the very nature of our ‘being’; it’s paradoxical, where seemingly things that should not co-exist, do. As we aim to make some sense of all this, we also realise that such sense may seem absurd. Yet we still seek to know our ‘being’.

The book is the latest in a series of books on risking, living and discerning. All ‘doing’ words, and things we all ought to do if our aim is to ‘be’ in this world. Yet doing such things and experiencing life also means that we must live with uncertainty and unknowing. The alternative is to be safe and secure.

However, as I’ve learnt over the past five years, Risk cannot be ‘solved’ or ‘ fixed’, rather, it defines our living and being. What a challenge to understand fallible being; especially if we believe life is about answers, rather than questions.

So, what can you expect as you venture through a book written by someone who seeks to help us understand; ourselves, our world and what it does to us?

To start, you’ll read about thinkers such as Kierkegaard and Heidegger; they weren’t among the recommended authors when I studied ‘solutions’. You’ll also hear stories of risk through movies, such as Indiana Jones; not from the perspective of some Risk Matrix or control, but rather ‘exegesis’, religious symbology and myth. I don’t recall learning about any of these in my undergrad degree in objects; yet, they are so critical if our aim is to tackle, rather than eliminate risk.

We also learn about hope, faith and importantly fallibility in this book.
These were not words that I considered in 2012, when I started my consulting organisation focused on ‘solutions’.

Not long after I started consulting in ‘solutions’, I started my own spiral into cognitive dissonance. is began after reading Risk Makes Sense. It’s also the year that I met Rob Long.

Rob is no hero of mine, nor is he a superhero at large. Rather, he is a teacher, mentor and friend. He was the instigator of a learning adventure, one that would change my life in a way that I could never have imagined, rather only experience.

For example, it was in Austria in January 2017, as my dear friend Gab Carlton and I took comfort from the snow and freezing conditions outside, that I first heard the term ‘perichoresis’ in a casual conversation. It was in the relative comfort of a restaurant in Linz ironically the hometown of Hitler, that I learned about the paradox of legs broken while at the same time carrying demonstrated in the mythology of the kriophoros. Time again, I have experienced being carried, where the pain is shared. Yet I did not realise, nor fully appreciate, how critical this was for learning, growing and developing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still regularly seduced to the ‘crusade’, it’s hard to avoid in our world of hero’s, answers and ‘solutions’. However, now as I struggle through life, I can recognise the cues when crusading prevails. I’m grateful for that, which is not to say that it does not continue to challenge me. Such is ‘living’ in the dialectic!

As I try to make sense of all this, I now feel some comfort in not knowing, instead my focus these days is on contemplating and reflecting with a new intelligence.

Reflection did not occur when I was caught up in process, saving and protecting! Crusaders need not reflect, for they already know everything! Thankfully though, reflecting is now a daily ritual.

When Rob first sent me a draft of this book, I initially noticed some mistakes; in spelling and in grammar. Isn’t it interesting what takes our attention if our focus is on saving and fixing? However, as I reflected on what the book was saying to me, and on the questions that it asked me, these trivial details drifted away and I opened myself to learning; rather than policing. It was quite liberating, while also a cause for some anxiety.

Maybe this will be the same for you?

Learning is not always easy, it’s about change after all. One thing I’ve learned about learning though, is the importance of ‘readiness’. Are you ready for what is offered in this book?

When I first read Risk Makes Sense, I thought that I ‘got it’. Then, I was confronted with what I thought
I knew, and recognised that being the ‘smartest person in the room’ with the answers, was actually part of a bigger problem, not a solution. This was such an important learning for someone intent on ‘saving’. I now value questions, rather than answers.

This means that instead of fearing death, fallibility and harm (all of which have no answers), I now aim to embrace life, with all of its ups and downs and bits in between. Instead of saving others and seeing them as objects, I now see and connect with people, because after all, as Martin Buber (1958) suggests; “All real living is meeting”.

I learned a lot from reading, and questioning this book. I hope you do too.

Robert Sams

Download the book here:

*published with permission Dr Robert Long (2018)

I Just Can’t Stop!

“I just can’t stop!

I’m smart enough to know what it’s doing me, but its grip takes over everything; relationships, responsibilities, my very being. I think about it all the time; how can I get it? what if I can’t get it? do they know I’ve had it? It damn tortures me! It’s a disease that I know is trying to kill me, yet I still do it.

I just can’t stop!

People don’t understand what I go through, daily. Some might suggest that I “just stop it” – but they don’t understand – if only they could try to…

Maybe then I could stop…?”

Anon. (Conversation, 2018)

I sat with this person recently as they shared with me the trauma and torment that addiction causes in their life. There was nothing that I could do to stop their trauma, that is their challenge to work on. All I could do was to be with them; not in judgment, but in brotherhood.

Please don’t misunderstand, this was not easy to hear; my instinctive response was to fix, not ‘meet’. However, I’m grateful that I (sometimes) am able to recognise the cues when I’m moving to ‘fixing’ and stopped. There is a good reason for this.

As Canadian addiction expert and medical Doctor, Dr Gabor Mate (see further details below), reminds us:

“Although we may believe we are acting out of love, if we are critical of others or work very hard to change them, it’s always about ourselves. ‘The alcoholic’s wife is adding to the level of shame her husband experiences,’ says Anne, a veteran of Alcoholics Anonymous. ‘In effect, she is saying to the addict, he is bad and she is good. Perhaps she is in denial about her addiction to certain attitudes, like self-righteousness, martyrdom, or perfectionism. What if, on the other hand, the wife said to her husband, ‘I’m feeling good today, honey. I only obsessed about your drinking once today. I’m really making progress on my addiction to self-righteousness.”

Source: In the Realms of Hungry Ghosts

Dr Mate provides a instructive introduction to his perspective on addiction in the video below:

One thing that stands out now that I am working more closely in the social services sector, is the impact that addictions have in our society. Whether they be addiction to; substances, exercise, gambling, work, sex, shopping, perfectionism or social media, they can impact on both our own and the lives of others in many ways. Addictions, just like many of life’s other ‘wicked problems‘, are challenging to firstly understand, and then tackle. This can be especially challenging when we are trying to understand them from the perspective of others.

We can learn a lot about addiction from social psychology, including the importance of language and semiotics. This seems especially true if we contemplate how easily we can be moved to label people (e.g. they’re just ‘addicts’). As my good friend Hayden Collins reminds us in this article:

“Labels or stereotypes shape how we see the world. They unconsciously affect our perception of objects, nature, individuals – including ourselves – social communities and cultures, and subsequently influence our relationships and behaviour. Labels simplify the complexity of the world through categorisation. Once a label is in place it is extremely difficult to remove[4]. When a label is applied to an individual, they are seen as an object – something to be used, possessed, fixed or controlled[5]. The uniqueness and humanness of the individual is lost – along with it the opportunity for building relationships based on care, trust and respect – and enables the exploitation and exclusion of the individual that has been labelled[6]. Labelling affects everyone; even physicians who have taken the ‘Hippocratic Oath’ unconsciously treat their patients differently depending on the label and stereotype that has been applied. With kind and friendly personal treatment provided to those who are perceived as having no responsibility for the injury and impersonal treatment to those seen as negligent with no excuse[7].”

Source: Hayden Collins (2016) see –

We may learn too from noted author on the topic of addiction, Johann Hari (further details below), of how critical our social connections are if our aim is to support people who are gripped by addiction. For example in his book Chasing the Storm, Hari offers that:

“The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety. It’s connection.”

Source: Johann Hari in Chasing the Scream

So what can we do if we are interested in learning more about, and supporting people with, addictions?

The following resources might be helpful in learning more about how we can support people who face the challenges of addiction. These include:

  • Research conducted by those who have an interest in labels and words and the impact that these can have. One resource that might be of interest is Recovering the Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing by Ernest Dempsey.
  • Work by Zimbardo such as; The Lucifer Effect may also be helpful. It focuses on how easily we can move to ‘dehumanise’ others, including through our words, and the impact that this can have.
  • Speaking of words, if you’re looking for a good introductory book on the importance of words and their impact on our lives, Andrew Newberg’s book Words Can Change Your Brain is a great start.
  • If you’d like to learn more about semiotics, starting with the work of Dr Robert Long is a great way to “better understand how the unconscious is affected by social, visual and spacial arrangements“. This excellent article ( includes a beginners guide to semiotics along with the informative introductory video included below:
  • As noted above, when it comes to addiction, the work of Dr Gabor Mate is a challenge to the all who propose that the ‘solution’ is as easy as ‘make a choice‘ and “just stop it”. This is especially challenging for those who cling by the ‘medical model’ as a ‘fix’ for addiction. Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels in their book Selling Sickness remind us of such challenges in the medical industry, not that it doesn’t have it’s place in dealing with addiction. Rather than suggest a medical only approach, Mate (a medical doctor himself) proposes that addiction can be linked back to a painful experience in a person’s life:

“Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the neurobiology of addiction in the brain.”

It’s tempting to try to understand addiction through the lens (only) of rational thought, but…. how does this make sense? What does it say about us if this is the lens through which we seek to understand? Further, if we feel tempted to fix such challenging situations, maybe a question to ask is; does the dilemma lie with those who face addiction, or does it lie in us?

As noted above, it can be tempting also to simply see addiction as a choice one makes; e.g. between taking a drug, making a bet or buying that next item – or not. What does this simplistic thinking, as provoked in the video below, mean for those who suffer through addiction? Plausibly, rather than helping, instead it may be harmful, as it further promotes the seduction of binary thinking, a way of thinking that causes us to seek out simplistic solutions to complex problems; it seems absurd?

A Story of Two Twin Boys. . .

This brought me to tears. What a powerful lesson…

Posted by Power of Positivity on Wednesday, 9 November 2016

There is much more that has been written about and more that we could discuss in relation to addiction. While such discussion might be helpful (and necessary) in trying to understand, perhaps the best thing we can do if we are fortunate enough not to be tortured by addiction, is to pause and reflect on the questions below. Maybe they could help us make better sense of addiction?

Reflective Questions

  • How do we see others who struggle with the grip of an addiction?
  • What does it mean to ‘be’ with people as they are being tortured by addiction?
  • How can we deal with the challenges of our own assumptions and judgments about addiction, that often fester away in our unconscious?

Maybe we all have addictions? Conceivably we are all drawn (unconsciously) to activities or actions that, given a choice, we would prefer not to do? Why then, are we so quickly drawn to judgment of those caught in its web?

What are your thoughts and experiences with addiction?

References from Hayden Collins’ Quote:

[4] Alter, A., Drunk Tank Pink, New York, Penguin Books, 2014, p. 29.

[5] Buber, M., I and Thou, London, Continuum, 2004, p. 14.

[6] Ibid., p. 30

[7] Radley, A., Making Sense of Illness, London, Sage Publications, 1994, pp. 103-104

The Human Race

It’s Christmas, a time of the year that can create both a feeling of community and togetherness (we) while (ironically) also drawing us easily into a world of ‘I’ and ‘things’ (me). Christmas, set within the Christian tradition, is a story about the birth of Jesus as a human on earth and among other things, reminds us of our; human fallibility, weaknesses and imperfections, all of which are fundamental to being part the ‘human race’, a term that is often used to describe our collective being.

I wonder though, if at times we may more aptly be described as; ‘humans who race’?

The signs of our racing, especially at this time of year, are ubiquitous. Whether it be rushing to finish Christmas shopping or sprinting for bargains at the ‘Boxing Day sales’, we seem in such a hurry. It occurs in our everyday life too. For example, we no longer seem to cope with even the most basic of ailments without seeking to overcome them as quickly as possible. Even in our search for a new job, or in completing a course of study, we seem intent on finding the quickest and most efficient way to achieve these tasks. As we move through this life so quickly, there hardly seems enough time for any real living along the way. What do I mean when I suggest this?

Martin Buber may help our understanding when he proposes in I-Thou that; “All real living is meeting” (1958, p.26). However, one cannot meet alone, nor whilst racing!

Let’s explore.

Read the full post first published HERE.


Safety in the Silly Season…

We often refer to this time of the year as the silly season. A time where we let our hair down, have a bit of fun and feel free to be a bit silly. There are parties, after work drinks, family catch ups and barbeques with friends. It’s often a great time to chill out, as well as to reflect on and celebrate ‘the year that was’.

Safety gets into this spirit too. Sadly though, it has quite a different definition of what ‘silly’ means. How so?

I was talking with a friend today, they called to debrief about a ‘serious incident’ in their workplace. One of their team was using a pair of scissors to cut open a box and cut themselves. It was deemed a ‘serious incident’, one that required reporting within 24 hours and an external investigation by the Safety experts.

This meant not just one, but two of the safety team would come out to site the very next day and interview the ‘injured worker’, the Manager and any witnesses. The incident was logged in ‘the system’, this ensured that it was appropriately escalated to relevant managers.  People were instructed to stop using the scissors until an assessment by these external experts could be conducted.

Who are these experts? Maybe they have some form of specialised scissor safety skills? Had they participated in professional training in scissor techniques? Or perhaps they had other proficient skills and knowledge in scissor safety procedures?

Or more fancifully, they were they experts in not being distracted while ‘concentrating on the job at hand?

In reality though, they were more likely a Safety Crusader; someone who can’t help themselves taking control of situations and who fast become an expert in others. Safety Crusaders are less interested in people and far more interested in objects. They see the world through the lens of rules, standards and process. Any deviation from these is a clear breach; an example of ‘unsafe behaviour’ that must be met with clear consequences. This often includes some form of punishment; a way to motivate people to be ‘safer’.

Safety Crusaders will stop at nothing to ‘make everyone safe’. Their mission is to rid the world of dangerous situations, even if it means that people may lose their jobs. Safety is a choice you make after all, so if you ‘choose’ to use a pair of scissors in an unsafe way, then you clearly have no care for yourself or others in the workplace. In that case then, the consequences must reflect this risk you are prepared to take. Sacking seems the only plausible option for those who choose not to be safe; silly people.

So back to this serious incident…. How bad was it, that it required such urgent reporting and expert follow up?

I imagined the person sitting in the Emergency Department of the local hospital; maybe a tendon severed? Nope!

I then thought of blood flowing everywhere; an ambulance called to rush the person off for urgent treatment? Nope!

Ok, it must have been a large gash; requiring stiches and/or maybe a tetanus shot to prevent further harm? Nope!

No, instead this was your basic small cut to a finger. A band aid did the trick and the person was back to it within a minute or two. It was a pretty innocuous situation really; that was, until Safety became involved.

My friend spoke of their fear of Safety.

They had previously been involved in a similarly minor incident that was not reported. On that occasion, they were severely reprimanded and had to explain their actions to the Managing Director. The main concern… not of the person who was injured, nor of the welfare of the team; no!

Instead, the concern was only of the process; it must be followed. There are no excuses for not reporting, their organisation ‘takes safety seriously’, after all.

I wonder what would Safety do if there were no incidents to investigate?

Why is Safety so intent on taking control of all aspects of our lives? Why does it need to stick its nose into everything we do? Why can’t Safety see beyond objects, process and techniques and instead seek to understand, care for, and ‘be with’ people? Isn’t Safety a helping profession?

You’d be forgiven for thinking this whole story was some sort of Christmas fairytale. Deplorably though, we know it is not. This is just one of so many examples that we hear of where Safety seeks to take control of our lives. It seeks to restrict our living and being, and stifle our learning. Safety takes the definition of silly to a new extreme, it doesn’t seem to make sense.

Why has Safety lost its way and also lost its interest in people? Why is it so easily seduced into control, power and obedience? Why can’t it break free from the shackles that tie it to seeing people as objects to be controlled, rather than people to be met?

Can Safety get any sillier than this? Sadly, I think we know the answer…