Do we Need a Different Way of Being in Safety?

Originally posted on May 28, 2018 @ 1:21 PM

Do we Need a Different Way of Being in Safety?

imageThere are many people working in Safety who seek a ‘different’ way of engaging with others, and rightly so. The current policing and patrolling approaches adopted by many, seem to be doing little to support people in how they tackle the challenges of risk. Some even suggest that rather than being a problem, people are the solution; a creditable idea, but what might this mean in practice?

There are a few questions that come to mind when considering this ‘new view’ in Safety, including:

· How can we adopt an approach focused more on people if we don’t also broaden our ‘way of being’ from the deep-seated STEM focus that currently dominates Safety’s discourse?

· If we are to see people as a ‘solution’[1], how do we then resist also viewing them as objects to be studied and corrected, and instead see them as subjects (people) to be ‘met’?

· How do we deal with the often unrecognised and unconscious social forces in our modern world, that drive us toward individualistic thinking and steer us toward being an expert in others?

Counter intuitively, perhaps the answers to these questions may lie outside of Safety’s traditional literature, studies and references? Conceivably we also require a different ‘way of being’ if Safety is really going to be ‘different’? So where else can we look for guidance on this?

Carl Rogers, the founder of the humanistic psychology movement and father of a ‘person-centered’ approach to therapy, might provide some clues on this in his book A Way of Being (1980).

So how may Rogers help Safety?

The Introduction to the book includes a story of when he startled the audience at an academic symposium on Ellen West, a heavily studied patient who died by suicide (, when he responded to Ellen’s story in the following way;

“Not only did Rogers express his sorrow about her tragically wasted life, but also his anger at her physicians and psychiatrists who, through their impersonality and preoccupation with precise diagnosis, had transformed her into an object. How could they? Rogers asked. If only they had known that treating a person as an object always stands in the way of successful therapy. If only they had related to her as a person, risked themselves, experienced her reality and her world, they might have dissolved her lethal loneliness.” (p.vii)

In what ways may Safety be “treating a person as an object”?

Maybe it is when people are ‘observed’ via a checklist? Or, is it when behaviours are checked against some standard? Possibly it’s after an incident, when we see things through a simplistic and binary lens of safe and unsafe, rather than accepting the complexity and fallibility of what it means to be human?

So, if we do seek a different way to engage with people in Safety, and not see them as objects, what might we do differently? That is, how might we adopt a different ‘way of being’ in Safety?

Rogers’ ‘person-centered’ approach might be a good starting point. What does he mean by this?

“The central hypothesis of this approach can be briefly stated. Individuals have within themselves vast resources for self-understanding and for altering their self-concepts, basic attitudes, and self-directed behaviour; these resources can be tapped if a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.” (p.115)

He goes on to describe three conditions that must be present for a climate to be growth-promoting:

  1. Genuineness, realness and congruence, meaning that the Safety person would need to be open to the feelings and attitudes that are flowing within at the moment of meeting with others.
  2. Acceptance, caring and prizing, or what Rogers calls unconditional positive regard for the other person. This one might be a real challenge though for some in Safety, as it seems full to the brim of ‘conditions’ including; ‘lifesaving rules’, ‘safety is a choice’ and ‘safety first’. How would Safety cope with this idea of ‘unconditional’?
  3. Empathetic understanding, meaning that the person senses accurately the feelings and personal meanings that the other person is experiencing and communicates this understanding to the other. Maybe a more humble inquiry is required if this approach is to be accepted by Safety?

Reflecting on these thoughts has me wondering if Safety would be interested in, and further, could it cope with such relationships? How would it deal with relinquishing control and quit being the expert in others?

A different way of being, one that has unconditional positive regard for others, is a big step away from how most see Safety. There seems a lot to do for an industry to even begin to start a move to an approach that recognises the tension, mystery and paradox that is ‘living‘ as a human being. I wonder if Safety is prepared for such a move?

How do you think Safety would deal with this challenge?



Robert Sams



Book: Social Sensemaking – Click HERE to Order

[1] I thought it may be useful at this point to pause and reflect on the word ‘solution’ as used in this context – what may the idea of a ‘solution’ mean for how we tackle risk? As we know from our contemplations of some ‘problems’ (e.g. ‘wicked problems’), that instead of solutions, at times life brings with it mystery, ambiguity and uncertainty. Perhaps this is worth further reflections and discussion in Safety?

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