Zero Discourse and Perfectionism

Originally posted on February 26, 2018 @ 10:25 AM

Zero Discourse and Perfectionism

imageTalking perfection to fallible people is not just silly, it is also dangerous ( How strange that an industry so fixated on saving lives would unknowingly want to harm people! Yet, this is what the industry of safety does. The publishing of injury league tables is also not only silly, but it too is dangerous ( How strange that an association professing to be ‘professional’ could be so unprofessional in such action. Such is the rejection of fallibility by the safety industry. Read more in my latest book on risk as a free download: over 1000 downloads in 2 weeks.

Of course, all of this is stimulated by STEM-only discourse. The ideology of Science Technology Engineering Mathematics-only discourse ignores all of the non-materialist aspects of being human. When one is absorbed by STEM-only knowledge human fallibility becomes the enemy. When one is fixated on STEM-only thinking, human thinking and freedom to risk are made the enemy.

Ruggeri, in her excellent article on perfectionism demonstrates that perfectionist discourse and language is amplified by social media and:

· Promotes blaming and fault finding

· Fosters projection and self-delusion

· Becomes self-defeating driving depression

· Drives anger and frustration

· Encourages a discourse of judgmentalism

· Creates avoidance (BTW, there is no elimination of risk)

· Manufactures blindness to trade-offs and by-products in decision making

· Feeds a vicious cycle of shame in failure

· Promotes suicide or, Dumb Ways to Die (

· Exaggerates any minor yet, acceptable injury

· Is linked to a host of physical and mental health disorders

Based on Thomas Curran and Andrew Hill research (meta-analysis of rates of perfectionism from 1989 to 2016) Ruggeri shows that we are ‘heading towards and epidemic and public health issue’ because of perfectionism.

There is nothing wrong with setting challenging goals or strong expectations but this is not what perfectionism is about. Perfectionism is pitched against the realities of human fallibility and as such wants to rob humans of the essential meaning of mistakes, learning and risk. Maladaptive perfectionism doesn’t get the paradox of human fallibility. For every action in human endeavour there is an equal and opposite reaction. The more one takes away the necessity of human fallibility the more humans are made fragile.

I know someone who has a phobia about germs, they wash the floor of their home 8 times a day. Their fear is that their child might get some germs. Little do they know that their child needs those germs to build up their immune system, this is the essential paradox of hormesis. The more they make their home sterile, the more fragile their child will become when exposed to germs. The same goes for any aspect of human life. Excessive use of antibiotics in our society have now made them less effective. Making playgrounds ‘safe’ now means less kids learn bodily agility outside and are obese. The list is extensive in how we make people weak and fragile by trying to make everything ‘safe’. Reading Taleb on AntiFragility would be a good start:

The reality is, there are a whole lot of things that humans benefit by when they go wrong. As Ruggeri states: ‘Perfectionism isn’t about high standards. It’s about unrealistic standards’ … ‘Perfectionism isn’t a behaviour. It’s a way of thinking about yourself’.

One of the biggest problems with perfectionism is its myopia, perfectionism has no vision. This is why the safety discourse of zero vision is so damaging and so religious ( ). One needs infallible levels of faith to believe in perfectionist goals which of course leads to delusion. How strange that the global safety industry would so freely set out a language of nonsense for fallible people! There can be no professionalism in safety until this immature and binary discourse is made silent.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be conscientious in what we do or that we shouldn’t try to be safe, such a proposal is only fostered by the mindless binary worldview of zero non-vision.

Ruggeri comments:

‘Take the student who works hard and gets a poor mark. If she tells herself: “I’m disappointed, but it’s okay; I’m still a good person overall,” that’s healthy. If the message is: “I’m a failure. I’m not good enough,” that’s perfectionism’.

I spoke to a friend this week about how many LTIs he has in his company and there were about 10 a year. Each one was treated with extraordinary inquest and energy. Each LTI created days of work in investigation reporting and paperwork. I gave him a challenge. I suggested he look into how many unexplained absences his company had and accepted. I suggested that many of the Mondays and Fridays lost were probably due to depression and anxiety or toxicity in the workplace. ‘Ah, yes’ he said, ‘but we don’t count them’.

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