The Toxic Language of ‘Performance’ and Risk
The language of ‘performance’ as measured outcomes is toxicity for the humanization of persons. We see this exemplified in the recent report on systemic abuse in UK gymnastics. The same is true for the culture of abuse in Australian gymnastics . When performance is understood as measurement of lower order goals (https://safetyrisk.net/goals-and-vision-in-safety/ ), no wonder persons are abused. This has great relevance for the safety industry that is seduced by the language of ‘performance’ and ‘measurement’. You never hear this industry speak about a balance between lower order, middle order and higher order goals.
The notion of ‘performing’ of course comes from the arts, drama, theatre and Poetics. If we go back to ancient times, performing was never about measurement but about beauty, aesthetics and the language and semiotics of meaning. Elam gives a wonderful overview of what performance is about (http://lanlib.alzahra.ac.ir/multiMediaFile/2231244-4-1.pdf ).
Somewhere along the line, Western society has lost sight of the importance of being a person. As Johnson (1986) (Inner Work, Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth) articulates:
‘The disaster that has overtaken the modern world is the complete splitting off of the conscious mind from its roots in the unconscious. All the forms of interaction with the unconscious that nourished our ancestors—dream, vision, ritual, and religious experience—are largely lost to us, dismissed by the modern mind as primitive or superstitious. Thus, in our pride and hubris, our faith in our unassailable reason, we cut ourselves off from our origins in the unconscious and from the deepest parts of ourselves’.
What Johnson explains is a fundamental disconnect from performing as a language of being.
This is when we ‘perform’ not to be measured but to be understood.
This is the purpose of all ‘performing arts’ and movement.
Unless being is balance with doing, culture balanced with ‘behaviours’ and STEM ideology, the trajectory to abuse and harm is set by the seduction of measurement (https://safetyrisk.net/the-measurement-mindset-in-safety/; https://safetyrisk.net/the-seduction-of-measurement-in-risk-and-safety/ ).
That silly aphorism: ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’ should never sit alone but rather should be held in dialectic with: ‘not all that counts can be counted’.
What a shame that it takes 20 years of abuse, destroying lives and families to learn the lesson of balance.
No gold medal is worth the dehumanization of persons. No silly perfectionist goal of zero is worth the dehumanization of persons. These two are intertwined in this story about UK gymnastics. You can’t speak about perfectionist goals without the demonization of fallible persons.
Of course, the AIHS BoK Chapter on Ethics speaks nothing of this (https://safetyrisk.net/the-aihs-bok-and-ethics-check-your-gut/ ). Indeed, nowhere in the safety industry is there any discussion of the ethics of performance or how the language of zero determines the dehumanization of persons. Of course, zero is both an ideology and a measure, perfection thrust on fallible persons, a recipe for abuse and harm. Then add to the safety industry mix all the language of behaviourism, scientism and fear and you have a toxic formula for abuse and harm.
How strange this language of ‘zero harm’ that fosters harm and abuse in the name of zero, the global mantra for safety (https://visionzero.global/ ).
What we see in this article is not just a long history of how abuse develops but also underneath this story in how the language of ‘performance’ has been hijacked and abused of its meaning by the ideology of behaviourism and measurement.
Unfortunately, we don’t see a holistic definition of culture in this article. Unless the outcomes of the The Whyte Review tackle the deep issues of the collective unconscious, including behaviourist ideology, this will most likely happen again.