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 – https://www.humandymensions.com/services-and-programs/miprofile/) 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 (https://resilyence.com/) who has many years experience in conducting the survey, work with Hayden Collins from Risk Intelligence (https://www.riskintelligent.com.au/our-people), 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 (https://cllr.com.au/), 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: https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/

*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 to me, I understand the science, 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…

Maybe then I would 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, and let them know that I’m here to share in their torment…. if they like.

Please don’t misunderstand, this was not easy to hear; my instinctive response was to ‘fix’, rather than ‘meet’ this person. Fixing ‘solves’, it sorts out the pain and provides a release… or does it? I’m grateful that I (sometimes) am able to recognise the cues when I’m moving to ‘fixing’ and on this occasion, I 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 an 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 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 – https://www.riskintelligent.com.au/

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.
  • 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…

Good Grief

Good Grief…

Max Geyer was a gentleman, an archetypal family guy, a real giver and a lover. After commencing formal post-graduate studies at the age of 59, Max would often joke that he needed to live until the age of 200, just to read all of the books that he had accumulated. Sadly, this wish didn’t come true and we bid farewell to Max in August 2017.

As I stood alongside so many others at his funeral and watched as his coffin departed, never to be seen again, I welled up inside with pain. A pain that was so deep that words aren’t able to adequately describe it. When we experience such a loss, what is it that wells up inside us?

Later that night, while sitting alone and reflecting on the day and on my friendship with Max, I experienced both an intense feeling of heartache and also found myself chuckling and smiling (as I recalled some of Max’s quirky ways). What was that about? Our bodies often physically react when we feel this type of emotional pain, why is this? Is it a lack of control? Could it be the mystery of our unconscious telling our bodies; “you need this”?

Many questions emerge following the loss of a loved one and the associated grief; how do we make sense of this?

Perhaps such ‘sense’ can only be made paradoxically and with faith? Is it only when we accept a way of living that is capable of holding thoughts of ‘both-and’, that we can begin to make sense of grief? Without faith[i], how can we cope with the challenge of this paradox? We can have no ‘knowledge’ of what happens when we die, it is a mystery? Feasibly then, faith is a way of dealing with such a mystery? Faith (not answers) helped me make sense of Max’s death, otherwise how could I make sense of such a loving human being taken from this world?

So, what of this paradox of grief?

Firstly, we know grief hurts. It’s the type of pain you may feel in your heart, chest and gut, often simultaneously. Yet as Tournier (1981) suggests, intriguingly grief may also “create an occasion or potential for growth, learning and creativity”; although this is not guaranteed, nor is it necessarily causal[ii]. With such contradictory potentials, of both pain and growth, making sense of the paradoxical nature grief is challenging. How so?

Not surprisingly, grief caused by the passing of a loved one is considered one of the most stressful events in life. In fact, according to the well-respected Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, two of the top five most stressful things we can experience involve the loss of another person. So, if we follow Tournier’s suggestion, two of life’s most stressful events could lead to growth and learning; it sounds incongruous? Perhaps also incongruously, yet at the same time understandably, is that we spend much of our time striving to prevent, avoid or deny grief. Is this because we don’t acknowledge the idea of dialectic[iii] in our sensemaking. Why do we seek to prevent the pain in living?

The initial period after a loss may bring with it an assortment of seemingly uncontrollable and unrelenting emotions and feelings; of sorrow, sadness, isolation and of loneliness. There may also be fear; of our own mortality, of the unknown and of the uncertainty in how life will now play out. All of these feelings seem to come naturally and, although they are not necessarily welcomed, they are mostly expected. Knowing that these are feelings we are likely to experience after a loss, why do we still find it challenging to make sense of them?

Could it be that because as a (western) society we have become so attuned to making sense of things predominately through the lens of logical, reductionist and cogent thought? Does this cloud our sensemaking? How can something such as grief, so permeated with emotion and feeling, be understood (only) in this way? There is no ‘both-and’, when the answer we seek is black or white. What might it mean for ‘sensemaking’ if we were to consider an understanding of grief, where both black and white coexisted?

As we begin to explore this, let’s take a deeper look at what we mean by grief.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is one of the pioneering authors on the topic of grief and loss and her contemplations on the topic are helpful. In On Grief and Grieving (2014), Kubler-Ross and co-author David Kessler describe grief as:

“It’s the opening up to the exquisite pain of absence. It’s the moment when you stop trying to move on or change how much it hurts and just let it out.” (p.xiii)

Kubler Ross’ first book on the subject was On Death and Dying (1969), it was the pre-curser to On Grief and Grieving. It included the ‘five stages of grief’ which are; Denial Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. I will look at just one of these, depression, in order to explore the paradoxical nature of grief.

However, before I do, I want to highlight that while the five stages are both plausible and useful, a word of caution for those who are easily tempted into standardised approaches for such challenges in life; these stages are not (necessarily) linier, nor predictable, and they are certainly not guaranteed. Kubler-Ross suggests that they are much messier than that, however at the same time, they can provide a useful way for us to understand and explore what is happening when either we, or others are experiencing grief. For example, she notes about depression associated with grief:

“As tough as it is, depression can be dealt in a paradoxical way. See it as a visitor, perhaps an unwelcome one, but one who is visiting whether you like it or not. Make a place for your guest. Invite your depression to pull up a chair with you in front of the fire, and sit with it, without looking for a way to escape. Allow the sadness and emptiness to cleanse you and help you explore your loss in its entirety. When you allow yourself to experience depression, it will leave you as soon as it has served its purpose in your loss. As you grow stronger, it may return from time to time, but that is how grief works” (p.22)

Could it be that depression from grief, understood paradoxically, is something that, while it may ‘cleanse us’ and create the potential for growth (Tournier), is something we would likely reject if presented with such an offer?

If we can move forward with this paradoxical idea of grief and its potential in mind, what ought we do if our aim is to support others who experience grief and hence create their own potential for growth, learning and creativity?

Firstly, I’ve written previously about the need to be cautious when ‘helping’ so to avoid the pitfalls of ‘fixing’ people. This sounds like such simplistic advice; not to fix and instead to listen to & ‘meet’ others, however it’s much harder said than done, especially in western societies. Yet, it remains fundamental if our aim is to support others. How may this play out?

I recently read this story about a man whose wife had experienced severe depression for some time and she regularly had thoughts of suicide. He was honest in explaining the challenges he experienced as he aimed to help and support his wife, admitting that it;

“Doing something” meant reminding her of all the reasons it was worth staying alive – how good we had it, how much our families loved us, how much there was to look forward to. It almost became a script, a choreographed dance: she told me she felt suicidal; I tried to overwhelm her feelings with why she shouldn’t feel that way. It never convinced her of anything. But on that afternoon, exhaustion had beaten me down into shutting up. I sat quietly and held her hand.”

This exhaustion meant that;

I hadn’t said a word. It dawned on me how little I had been listening to her, without judgment or rush to action. She didn’t need me to tell her that everything was going to be OK. That didn’t help. She needed me to hear her pain. Being heard somehow made it more manageable.

On that afternoon, I finally learned that when any of us is in pain, the greatest gift you can give is to listen, patiently and purely.

What a telling insight into how to support others experiencing depression. An insight gained by way of experience and reflection. I wonder, why it feels so counter intuitive to many of us to just sit and listen? Also, why are we so quick to leap into action, rather than allowing people to ‘wrestle in the mud’ as they experience pain? Perhaps there is much we can all learn from reflecting on this story?

So, what else can we do if our aim is to support others through grief, even if it may feel uncomfortable and counter intuitive? McKissock and McKissock (2012) in their book Coping With Grief suggest that:

“It is important for support people to understand the benefit of crying, and not only allow it, but on occasions facilitate tears by asking the right kinds of question – those that most others avoid for fear of upsetting bereaved people” (p.25)

How common is it for us to reach for a tissue when sitting with someone experiencing grief, with the aim solely (and quickly), of stopping the flow of tears? What is our aim in interrupting this experience of grief?

As McKissock and McKissock further note:

“In conjunction with emotional responses to grief there are a host of physical responses, all of them designed to reduce pain to a manageable degree. When someone we love dies, our body produces a number of narcotic-like chemicals similar to heroin and morphine. These pain-killing chemicals help to produce the numbing experience most of us feel at the beginning. For those who cry, these chemicals are released in tears, which is why it is important for others not to try to prevent crying” (p.24)

Beyond trying to stop tears, we are often also compelled to ‘help’ in order to relieve others from the pain associated with grief. This may for example, see us quickly stepping in to take on chores with the aim of providing reprieve from mundane activities. However, this is where we need to further remind ourselves of the paradoxical nature of grief, and as McKissock and McKissock posit:

“Gardening, housework, bathing the dog, mowing the lawn, washing the car are all activities that can help. However, these are usually the things that family, friends and neighbours tend to do as their way of saying ‘I care’. It would probably be more helpful if they did these things with us, instead of for us.” (p.27)

It would seem that if we are to support others in grief, we need to surrender our own needs or desires and instead envisage the needs from the perspective of others, as tricky and contradictory (‘both-and’) as this may be.

Experiencing grief, particularly after the loss of someone close, can be one of the most painful and stressful experiences in our lives, yet may also lead to growth. This is not a thought that is easily grasped nor embraced. Our western society is dominated and entrapped by messages of ‘prevention’, of ‘no or zero harm’ and of a ‘never-ending search for happiness’. While it is not plausible to me to conjure up the thought where I actively seek pain and grief, what I recognise is that when grief does come to visit, it brings with it a gift, that if accepted, just may “create an occasion or potential for growth, learning and creativity”.

Good grief, what a conundrum.

How do you make sense of grief?


Robert Sams

[i] As described by Ellul in his exert Belief and Faith: “Faith constrains me above all to measure how much I don’t live by faith; how seldom faith fills up my life. Faith puts to the test every element of my life and society; it spares nothing. It leads me ineluctably to question all my certitudes, all my moralities, beliefs, and policies. It forbids me to attach ultimate significance to any expression of human activity. It detaches and delivers me from money and the family, from my job and my knowledge. It is the surest road to realizing that “the only thing I know is that I don’t know anything.” Faith leaves nothing intact. The only thing faith can bring me to recognize is my impotence, in incapacity, my inadequacy, my incompleteness, and consequently my incredulity (naturally faith is the most unerring and lethal weapon against all beliefs).”Source: J. Ellul, Belief and Faith. You can download the paper this quote was noted in HERE (accessed 28/09/2017).

[ii] As Tournier, in Creative Suffering (1981, p.18) notes when referring to the work of Dr Haynal: “There is a relationship between the processes of bereavement, loss, deprivation, and creativity. He carefully refrains from saying that it is a relationship of cause and effect. The person matures, develops, becomes more creative, not because of the deprivation in itself, but through his own active response to misfortune, through the struggle to come to terms with it and morally to overcome it – even in spite of everything there is no cure.

[iii] “Dialectic, then is not just a way of reasoning by question and answer. It is an intellectual way of grasping reality, which embraces the positive and the negative, white and black… It includes contradictory things that do not exclude one another but coexist. Hence a system of vigorous thought ought to take account of both the yes and the no without ruling out either, without choosing between, since every choice excludes on part of reality.” Source: J. Ellul, What I Believe, trans. G. W. Bromiley (London: Marshall Morgan and Scott Publications, 1989), 31. You can download the paper this quote was noted in HERE (accessed 28/09/2017).




Reflections of a Great Mate – Max Geyer

Finding the Right Words

Our dear friend Max Geyer passed away peacefully during the morning of 2nd August 2017 after a short period of illness. His passing, while no real shock when considered from a medical perspective, was certainly something that shook the people who loved Max. He was the kind of guy who attracted friends easily; it wasn’t hard to love Max.

He shared his time with so many people, he was understanding, curious and welcoming. Most would describe him as a lover; of life, of family and of ‘living’.

This is a short tribute to a dear friend. A friend that has had a positive impact on the life of so many people, least of all De’s and mine. As I try to find words that fit such a decent man, I know that I will fall short. As Polanyi suggests; ‘we know more than we can say‘, however, I will do my best to remember the life of a lovable character, of a friend and of a true family man. That is, the life of Max Geyer.

Max, Sylvia and a Special Family

There was nothing Max valued more than his special family, that included at its nucleus his dear wife Sylvia (or as Max affectionately called her, ‘Sylvie’), his daughters Brooke and Nicole, and their husbands Sven and Leighton. A real joy too were his five little grandchildren who he affectionately referred to as ‘life’s little vitamins‘; thus the energy that Max received when in their presence.

Max was; a husband, a father, a ‘Grampy’ and to many, a dear friend.

It is Max’s special ‘Sylvie’ though that really stole and held his heart for most of his life. When you are in the presence of these two caring people, you know that you in the midst of a loving bond that is as strong as any other. When I think of Max and Sylvie together, I’m reminded of the words of a special bloke from Kings Cross (see below) who once wrote; “when two people get married, they don’t become ‘one’, they become ‘us’.” Max and Sylvie were the epitome of this.

Max pictured here with his dear ‘Slyvie’ at a charity dinner for Fiji Kids. Fiji holds a special place in both Max and Sylvie’s heart as they have many friends in the area.

A Love of Learning, Reading…. and Playing!

I don’t know too many people who, in their late 50’s, decide to embark on a formal course of study and commence post-graduate studies at University – enter Max Geyer!

Max had a lifelong passion for learning, mostly done through the many and varied experiences of ‘living’. Max was not afraid to embrace risk when it came to learning, however commencing formal University studies at a time when most people are thinking toward retirement, now that was ‘risk in action’!

Max completed the Post-Graduate Diploma in the Social Psychology of Risk, studying under Dr Rob Long. I was fortunate to share in many of the formal learning experiences with Max; attending classes, writing essays, reading so many books and of course sharing in much conversation. I was also fortunate to be there on the day Max graduated. Max was delighted that we graduated at one of his most special places, The Wayside Chapel in Sydney’s Kings Cross.

It was a proud day for Max and ‘Sylvie’, but it would also have been for Max’s Dad, who only a few years earlier, and before he died, encouraged Max to go onto more formal studies. I remember Max telling us that he really only decided the day before he commenced this course, that he was going to do it, talk about risk! But what a risk it was; it would not be an understatement to describe it as a life changing course of study and for those of us fortunate enough to share in the learning with Max, it will be remembered forever!

Max pictured here on Graduation Day with Dr Rob Long, a proud moment for many people.

Max was also a cheeky bugger, always seeking to have fun and share in that fun with others. There are countless stories that could be shared, and I’m sure in time they will be; about how Max could really lift the mood of any gathering,  with his cool (well in his mind anyway…) ‘Dad Jokes’, through a story about his many experiences (there were no shortage!) or just his infectious smile. Max loved to ‘play’ and always encouraged others to join in the fun.

Max, GabStar, James and I presented at a Social Psychology Conference in Newcastle in 2015. This photo is typical of these three fun loving people, always looking to have a laugh and share in the fun of life.

Max’s Work and Writing

Max worked in a wide range of roles including front line worker, overseer, work group leader/manager, senior manager and senior consultant. He had experience across diversified fields covering livestock management, mining, training and business process improvement, plus WH&S, HR and Quality systems auditing, design, implementation and management. He worked all across Australia with so many different people. Max was one of those who I think you could affectionately call a ‘Jack of All Trades‘.

It is in his later years of work, both during and after the study noted above, that I was able to regularly enjoy working alongside Max. As a consultant, Max was passionate about serving clients, and he made a real effort in getting to know people personally, developing relationships; not just doing a job, but helping people with their needs.

Through his study and work, Max became an avid reader and then writer, often sharing his thoughts on the Blog site of our great mate Dave Collins. There is a section of the website dedicated to Max’s writings which you can access by clicking on the image below.

Max also enjoyed a chat! It seems that there were very few people who Max would not be able to engage in conversation with. He was never short of a yarn about this (or that), his life was so full of experiences and stories. I had the privilege of sharing in many, many conversations with Max. One particularly cool one was during a video we call ‘Conversations on the Couch‘. We did this back in 2015 during the thick of our studies. You can enjoy our chat by clicking on the image below.

Sharing the Love – With Those by ‘The Wayside’

One of the great experiences of the study described above is the experiential component of the learning. For Max, I’d suggest his favourite, and certainly most memorable experiential learning, was a visit to The Wayside Chapel, which had a special place in Max’s heart.

The visit to The Wayside came early on in the ‘learning adventure‘ for Max and as part of this he was introduced to a man that would take an incredible hold of Max’s heart and provide it with much pleasure. That man is the Pastor and CEO of The Wayside, Graham Long (Rob’s brother).

We were fortunate during our study to hear Graham share some of his thoughts on life and ‘living’. Graham is a gently spoken man with a cheeky chuckle and infectious laugh. He spent around an hour with our cohort of keen students, sharing wisdom about life and The Wayside. This would be one hour that would impact Max for the rest of his life, and even into death (Graham will reside over proceedings at Max’s funeral).

You can hear for yourself this chat with Graham in this video (https://vimeo.com/97838068). If you listen closely enough, toward the end, you will hear some questions from Max. He learnt a thing or two from Graham and so many others at The Wayside over the past few years.

One of the things I loved, and will miss about Max, is his contemplation and then sharing of Graham’s weekly letter to his ‘Inner Circle‘. Each week Graham writes a short letter to supporters of The Wayside and distributes it by email and on Facebook. Every week Max would wait, keen in anticipation of the letter, and look forward to firstly reading it (usually he said, with a tear in his eye), and then thinking about a way to sum up what Graham said in a sentence or two of his own and then ‘paying it forward’. Max was such a sharing person, and each week he couldn’t wait to share Graham’s words with those he loved. Such was Max.

Max pictured here ‘getting his wings’ at Sydney’s The Wayside Chapel.

Max Geyer was a true ‘giver’ too, always thinking of others. In this picture, he is presenting a special book to Dr Rob Long that Max arranged to have signed by the US based author Karl Weick, one of Rob’s favourites. Rob was touched by the gift, I know it means so much to him and Max was just as thrilled in the giving as Rob was in the receiving.

Editor in Chief

In early 2016, I had this idea to write a book. I’d been writing Blog articles for quite a while and had amassed quite a few, so thought it would be a good idea to put these together, along with stories shared by some friends (including Max) into a book. Well, writing the articles seemed the easy task, putting a book together in a way that was at least partly comprehensible was a much bigger task.

Well established Authors have the luxury of a professional Editor. I had on the other hand, someone with the passion, the love and importantly the time of Max Geyer; Editor in Chief of Social Sensemaking. I could never repay Max for the time he spent helping me put the book together, and I know that I don’t need to. However, it goes without saying that the book would not have been created without the support, encouragement and hard work of Max.

Max and I spent months pouring over content for the book, discussing, debating and deliberating. Max was so patient and enthusiastic and his attention to detail was a great compliment to my eagerness to ‘get on with the job’. Goodness knows how many spelling (and other) mistakes would have been included if it were not for Max’s persistence and hard work. I will be forever grateful for Max’s friendship and support during this period.

It was a proud day that Max and I launched our book to the world. I remember him being excited at many steps along the way, even minor moments  when we finally got our Dewey Number!

A Poem for Max

On the day that Max died, I took some time out and drove to a local beach where I sat and reflected for a little while. I’d been encouraged recently in such moments to write down words that come to mind, so I did. The result was a short poem, the words to which are included below as a final tribute to such a special bloke and friend.

A friend, a learner, a lover
Forever thinking of the other.
You now have your ‘wings’ and you are free
Max Geyer, our dear friend, in peace you will be.

A bridge you said, bought people together,
When others were in need, you’d never say never.
So many memories in which we share,
You taught us so much about how to care.

RIP our dear friend. You’ll be forever missed, but the memories we hold dear.

We Love You.

End of Financial Year Sale & Supporting Lifeline

All Purchases Will be Donated to Lifeline

To coincide with my new role at Lifeline, we are offering visitors to the Dolphyn website a 30% discount on Social Sensemaking. More importantly, all money from all sales of Social Sensemaking during June and July 2017 will be donated to Lifeline Hunter Central Coast (see – http://www.lifelinehunter.org.au/)

Take Advantage of the 30% Discount - Order NOW

What is the Book About?

After a lifetime of working in Risk, Safety and Human Resources, the Contributors to this book take time out to reflect on these fields. They ponder why there is such a fixation on control and power; this ultimately restricts people’s thinking, autonomy and hence motivation and innovation. It seems that the seduction to want to reign in and control people, is difficult to resist in many organisations.

This book, and the idea itself of Social Sensemaking©, was born from a search for a more humanistic approach and methodology to supporting people to deal with risk. That is because in order to make sense of risk, we need to converse with others and more communality; ‘sensemaking’ is a social activity.

The book is written in the form of a ‘reflective journal’; it is not a text or a report on formal research. Instead, it 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’.

We invite you to join in the ‘learning adventure’ shared in the book while at the same time supporting the important work of Lifeline in our local community.

What are People Saying About the Book?

You can read a review of the book by Dr Robert Long HERE.

Humanising Workers Compensation

A Humanising Approach

James Ellis from Framework Group and I recently had the privilege of meeting a new group of people and sharing in a learning experience where our focus was on a more humanising approach to workers compensation and injury management.

The Workshop was held at Sydney’s iconic The Wayside Chapel, a place where ‘humanising‘ is lived and experienced, not just spoken about. It is an ideal venue to see first hand how treating people with dignity, and encouraging autonomy in decisions can make a significant impact on people’s lives; this is what we aim to provoke in these workshops. So how did it play out?

Day one started with introductions, to both each other and to The Wayside. We then quickly moved into our first experiential learning activity, a Wayside Walk, lead by the infamous Rob Holt who showed us through ‘The Cross’, sharing some of ‘his story’ of living on the streets in and around The Cross for around three years. Rob was formerly a senior corporate manager with one of Australia’s most well know organisations, and his story from the heights of the corporate world to living rough on the streets is one that is likely impact on most of us.

Rob got into some pretty bad ways, mixing with drug dealers, Bikies and violent people. He decided he wanted a change though, and it was The Wayside’s mission of ‘creating community with no us and them‘ that provided the space and the opportunity for Rob to do this. As Rob says:

“When I came to Wayside, Graham and I sat down in the old Chapel and it was here I poured my heart out to him. I wanted to end it all; end the drinking and pot smoking; end the rut I had been living for the last couple of months. I was living a life I could no longer accept. I had hit rock bottom. I’m not sure what I was expecting from Graham or how he and Wayside could help me. I remember clearly Graham assuring me that I had made the first and most difficult move by admitting where I was at and that I needed to make a change”. (https://www.thewaysidechapel.com/robs-story.php)

Rob’s is a story of acceptance and of change. He no longer wanted to live a life that was heading in only one direction, and it wasn’t upwards. It wasn’t The Wayside who changed Rob though, he had to do that hard work himself. However it was the environment created and the community spirit that is lived by those who visit and work there that provided Rob with the perfect setting to create a new life for himself. And what a life that is; one that is now focused on supporting others who may want to do the same thing. Rob’s a special bloke.

After the tour, we had lunch in The Wayside Cafe sitting with the many other people who visit each day. Someone asked us; “can you tell the difference between people who are paid to be here, those who volunteer their time and those who are visitors?”. It was hard to distinguish between the different people.

The next day and a half were spent sharing our experiences, our learning and some different methods for how we can take the ‘humanising’ approach adopted by The Wayside and put these into practice in the areas of workers compensation and injury management. Further details of our approach and the workshop are outlined below.

So what is our program about?

Our Approach

We have a a unique model of injury management that allows our employer clients to maintain and enhance their relationships with their workers which, in turn, has positive organisational implications. We believe that injury management provides employers with a portal through which they can demonstrate how much they care about their team. We understand that mistakes and injuries are inevitable, because people are fallible, but this same fallibility provides opportunities for learning and enrichment of relationships.

What is Covered in the Workshop

During this Workshop, we share our ideas and experiences including:

  • An understanding of human motivation
  • The impact that our social environment (including culture) can have on Return to Work
  • A better understanding of decision making including from the perspective of people who are injured, doctors and other people involved in the process

Our approach is to value people and relationships more than (simply) process. Our goal is to facilitate recovery and prevention, in the context of learning. In fact, we have learnt that by humanising injury management, we can impact an organisation in a powerful way that can permeate and enhance the culture. We share Case Studies of how we have gone about it.

We know that workers compensation presents many challenges, some predictable however many that are not. We don’t promise predictability but we can help you to enhance your organisation’s resilience with respect to injuries. We believe it is possible to look after your staff before and after an injury in a way that improves morale, gives you back time in your day and also saves you money.

If you’d like to learn more about our approach or the Workshop, you can contact James on [email protected] or me at [email protected]

Finally, if this story has sparked some interest for in The Wayside and you would like to support the work done by the great group of people there, you can learn more about this HERE.

Robert Sams

Dolphyn Newsletter – May 2017

A Focus on Mental Health

A Change in Direction for Dolphyn’s Rob Sams – Working More Closely With Lifeline

Some of you may know of my association with Lifeline Hunter Central Coast (LLHCC) where I have been working as a volunteer Director since November 2012. From next month, I will be working more closely with LLHCC after agreeing to a secondment as Chief Executive Officer (CEO). I am looking forward to continuing to support Lifeline in this more hands on leadership role. It co-insides with my commencement as a volunteer Face-to-Face Counselor with Lifeline. It is a privilege to work in an organisation alongside so many other ‘helping’ people who follow such an important cause.

There are energising times ahead for Lifeline in Australia and it is with much pride that I continue my association with an organisation that exists for people and in community with them; especially at a time when they may need it the most. Lifeline is a ‘helping’ organisation, something that resonates well with our approach at Dolphyn. You’ll learn more about this as you read through this Newsletter.

What Does This Mean for Dolphyn?

The work of Dolphyn will continue as usual through members of our ‘Community in Practice’ including:

  • Hayden Collins from Risk Intelligence in Victoria
  • James Ellis from Framework Group in NSW
  • Gab Carlton from Resilyence in the ACT
  • Roy Fitzgerald from Meta Dymensions in WA

We will also continue with our new series of ‘Humainsing Workers Compensation’ Workshops (see below) that are being co-facilitated with James Ellis. Our next Workshop is being held at the iconic Wayside Chapel in Sydney’s Kings Cross. You can secure your place at this Workshop by clicking HERE.

On a personal level, I will continue to work with a few select long term clients including Harris Farm Markets, along with some exciting new work we are doing with the team at Bluescope Stee. l will also be continuing my role in supporting the Centre for Leadership and Learning in Risk.

It’s bound to be a busy and exciting twelve months ahead. The ‘adventure’ continues, thanks for being a part of it.

Rob Sams

You can read the Full Newsletter HERE