If-Then and The Feeling of Risk

imageThe feeling of risk is best captured in one word ‘if’ or even more so, ‘if-then’.

Not knowing is foundational to the quest for learning and is essential for humility, developing understanding, empathy and love. All love is about a leap of faith into not knowing. This is why love is so seductive, attractive and energising. All adults know about ‘falling in love’ and ‘falling out of love’. Such is the nature of fallibility and risk. Such is the nature of not knowing.

We live in a world of Radical Uncertainty (https://safetyrisk.net/category/spor/; https://safetyrisk.net/the-certainty-of-uncertainty/ ) where running about talking language of ‘zero’ and perfection is registered as a mental health disorder. Expecting perfection of oneself and others in such a world is a recipe for a psychosis. And, workers in the field smell this nonsense more than any other.

I remember when I drove a school bus in remote South Australia in 1973-1976 I had some early lessons in risk, safety and the delusion of unrealistic expectations. The long route to pick up 75 children and drive them for 90 minutes up and down a dirt road mountain range was loaded with many extreme risks. There is no greater responsibility than having the lives of 50 people’s children in your hands on dozens of blind ridges on a single lane dirt road to get them to school. Several lessons learned were about saying no to time pressures, unrealistic expectations of others, schedules, irrational drivers, weather conditions and children with all the nature of erratic and unpredictable behaviour on a bus.

Driving a bus with 75 kids on board on poorly formed dirt roads alone is a risky job. Managing the behaviour of 75 kids aged between 5-17 is not something one does lightly. You need all the tricks in the management book to tackle such a task. Sliding out on a muddy corner in the rain at 60kms an hour with 50 children on board is not for the faint hearted. You learn a lot about risk in such a context and I was much younger than today. The lessons learned about safety in such a context are immeasurable.

One of the greatest lessons one learns in a high-risk situations is not to talk nonsense to yourself or others (https://safetyrisk.net/safety-experts-in-speaking-nonsense-to-people/). Speaking nonsense of perfection or prediction to parents and self is the language of insanity. Even in the small micro-culture of school bus, the last thing one needs is nonsense language. The best one can consider is what Weick called Managing the Unexpected. Any talk of prediction and certainty in such a context is simply delusional.

In such a context the best we can do is to speak the language of ‘if-then’.

Tackling risk is always about the dialogue between what is known and what is NOT known. The last thing that helps anyone is the arrogance of knowing everything, especially based on false consciousness in paperwork. All one can do in if-then is: consider all the factors, include all stakeholders in the safety dialogue (even children), undertake extensive training and consultation (with coaches and mentors), listen to the wisdom of others (and needs of others), be disposed to helping, maintain ethical practice and most important of all: don’t listen to a safety crusader (https://safetyrisk.net/are-you-a-safety-crusader-or-a-safety-leader/) who knows everything. No-one is interested in listening to a cocky safety crusader who speaks the nonsense of zero. It is always the cocky crusader who knows so little about risk that loves to lecture me about having no life experience in safety.

Over the four years of driving the bus for 3 hours a day there were many near misses and close calls and so few people to speak to who understood the risk. The best was the previous driver who drove the same route for 6 years. One thing is for sure, those who brag about knowing safety – don’t. Especially anyone who speaks the nonsense of zero.

Under the formula of if-then we must also consider what Slovic called The Feeling of Risk and Damasio called The Feeling of What Happens. I wish I had such wise counsel back in 1973. I wish I had the wisdom of D’Souza and Renner who wrote Not Knowing, The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity or Ralston who wrote The Book of Not Knowing, Exploring the Ture Nature of Self, Mind, and Consciousness. So here are a few positive, practical tips:

  • When you are on your own in a high-risk situation, how you speak to yourself is critical.
  • Nothing is more destructive to tackling risk than delusional self-talk (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/talking-to-yourself ).
  • Your own psychological and social state and wellness is essential for the safety of others.
  • Working alone in high-risk contexts is amplified by propagating a delusional culture, driven by zero.

Consider the absurd idea of what zero proposes to a driver of a bus with 75 children on board on a lonely remote dirt road in the middle of now where.

Before this I had worked in three jobs in logistics, building and construction and mechanical engineering and none had prepared me for the risk associated for this work.

Juggling the risk of harm from objects and completing checklists is nothing compared to the unpredictable nature of working alone in a remote environment with the responsibility for the lives of 75 children. This is where I learned some of my most valuable early lessons in risk and safety.

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