I can’t help but think that we are well overdue for a very long awaited re-adjustment in the way we deal with individual responsibility in society.
For decades we have been moving inexorably down a path, initiated by Grey People, of subjugating everything “individual” in favour of the common good, the group, the community, the disadvantaged, the minority, our cultural and personal safety and health, our environmental responsibility and our mental welfare.
What we have sacrificed in the process (or would sacrifice if the Grey People had their way), is leadership, competition, individual responsibility and reasonable risk taking.
We did, however, badly need the culture change that “political correctness” brought for us. Those of us in the middle ground socially and politically were generally approving of the fact that cheats, bullies, bigots and zealots got themselves placed at a fair and reasonable distance from their selfish ambitions now and then. We even took some vicarious pleasure in watching as minorities gained political representation and mixed it up with the elites, as “para-olympians” crossed the finishing line on wheelchairs, as women were given better protection under the law and rightfully occupied positions of power and influence, as children were given freedom of expression and validation, as unscrupulous employers were held to account for exploiting people and the environment.
Unease sets in
Then, we started to feel a little uneasy, as men became tarred collectively with the brush of rapist, child molester and predator; as “Green” politicians pushed for fruitcake laws that would legislate against fast food outlets, (to stop fat parents creating fat kids) and push us all onto non existent public transport, before there was even a decent roading system (I’d love to prove the TRUE efficiency of public transport vs. the private car if only ALL costs were taken into account);
as “achievement” (“you got there”) was replaced by “attainment”; (never mind, you tried);
as “failure” was replaced by “yet to achieve the minimum standard”;
as “you can’t do that, it’s against elf and safety” became the mantra of every jobsworth killjoy on the planet.
Individual vs. the “Common Good”
On the face of it, it’s a classic conflict: The freedom of the individual vs. the common good (whatever that is), yet there are problems. Here are just some:
Favouring minority groups in society (positive discrimination) in order to give them a head start can be counter productive if you seriously put the majority’s noses out of joint. It also creates an industry for people who make a profession out of perpetuating their own “cup half empty” slant on life. They seek out opportunities to limit, prohibit and subdue any form of individuality in order to validate their own loser mentality.
Governments may sometimes know what’s best for the community as a whole, but they can never know what’s best for the individual, (or if they ever do, should keep their sticky beak out of it). Do we REALLY want legislation to wet nurse us as private individuals? We’ve had smoking, smacking, fatty food almost made it, fireworks are almost gone. Mark my words, alcohol will be next on the agenda, followed by private vehicles. There will be no private ownership. If you want my tip for a cracking business idea, get yourself sorted now with a Cloud based vehicle sharing agency before the government does it for us.
The temporary loss of self esteem when told you’ve “failed” is often far outweighed by the clarity of the experience. When I don’t measure up, I DO NOT benefit by someone taking half an hour to explain in weasel words what “yet to achieve the minimum standard” means. And I don’t actually want a certificate for it. Sometimes, when I’ve been wallowing in self pity, I’ve dragged my sorry arse off the floor BECAUSE someone told me to “get over it”, not because I got support and empathy.
Winning feels good, whether in sport, socially or in business. It feels good not because you like beating people, but because for every win, there were probably many frustrating, bitter losses, so you darned well earned it.
Sitting on your backside and waiting for “The Universe” to provide is about the stupidest idea I have ever heard. What a rip off that idea was. We all know what I’m referring to. The fact is that if you want to succeed, you have to take steps towards your goal and bit by bit you will get there. Do you seriously believe you will get something by sitting indoors? That kind of blind belief makes religion actually look credible. Get out there and move towards your goal. But don’t expect it to be easy, and be prepared to use your elbows a bit. Ever see a kids’ lolly scramble where they stood back and helped each other? And I’m sorry, it’s the wimps who don’t get a single lolly and it’s the tall fat ones who get the most. That’s life. Get over it. But the difference between the wimp who got no lollies and the scrawny little guy who got one is the scrawny little guy got in there and had a go.
As for “elf and safety” – as I must remind myself that’s what this website is for, here’s something to chew on – I’ve never yet seen a written procedure or rulebook that was worth more than the miserable paper it was written on, because the only two things that actually matter are whether there is clear, strong leadership, and whether individual(s) understand the consequences of their actions (and were able to make sensible decisions).
You see, my point is that we are ultimately a race of individuals who all have freedom of choice. That’s what raised the human species out of the swamp. We all have different goals and ambitions, not all of which are compatible, but to prevent absolute anarchy, we all (some more than others) see the need to collaborate and cooperate under a set of guidelines. Every few years, we send a pack of egotists to Wellington to rant at each other and generally maintain an untidy balance as the rest of us slink off to do what really interests us.
What are rules actually for?
Ultimately, society makes rules and pays politicians to clear a reasonably free space for the individual to operate within. We don’t follow rules, we work within them as individuals.
What we thrive on is fewer rules, more individual decision making and more responsibility under good personal leadership.
What we don’t want, (and what simply does not work), is social engineering, whether that be in “elf and safety” or in anything else where a fully informed individual decision works better. There is a happy balance.
Those who have seen my recent articles and reports about the official backlash in the UK safety institutions, to counter myths and excuses used by some bureaucrats in the name of health and safety might be interested to know the campaign continues. I hope it succeeds. It’s not the rules, it’s the fact that the rules are hijacked by Grey People and Jobsworths who have not a spark of life or joy, and who want to justify their own miserable existence by placing limits on others. Those people do not display leadership. Leadership is understanding the risk, taking steps to limit the risk to an acceptable level, and taking responsibility for seeing it through. Individualism vs. Process.
We don’t want too much of either extreme, but please, if anyone with a balanced mind and a sense of how history repeats itself is out there listening, join me in wrestling the dammed tiller of life off the Grey People before we all end up wrapped up in cotton wool, drowning in thick treacle.
What can you do?
If you are involved yourself in health and safety, ask yourself not the wording of a rule, sign, prohibition, policy or edict, ask yourself what you can actively do to enable employees to make more decisions, not less. Ask yourself not how you can remove individual freedom to act, but how you can give more informed responsibility into the hands of the people who are at risk. Ask yourself not how you can create procedures and processes, but how you can provide clear and excellent leadership. Be brave, be expansive. Delegate and make people accountable. Above all, treat people as responsible individuals.
This all assumes you have the guards fitted and the floor clean. But you knew that.