Turn away if you’re not a fan of dark humor

Call me a terrible parent if you want, but I nicknamed my daughter “Lil Stabby” when she was two years old. She hates it. Though she’s got maniacal laughter down to a science, the name actually came from a specific event. It’s not necessarily indicative of her personality (although the jury’s still out).

Though I don’t usually do disclaimers, let me just say she’s actually one of the most kind-hearted humans I’ve been graced to know. The only one who might edge her out in that regard is her older brother. But only because he would sell the dog (and not ask permission first) if it meant donating the money to help someone out. The girl wouldn’t part that easily with her puppy.

She was a very early walker. I attribute that to her intense competitive nature. Since her brother was three years old when she came along, she knew nothing other than the reality that big people stand and use their feet to move around. As an infant, her eyes glowed with rage every time she watched someone do it while she rolled around on the floor. In retaliation she would scream, red-faced and vibrate back and forth in an effort to will herself onto her feet. The result was that she never even crawled. She could just walk one day.

The tenacity continued

Despite the walking, she wasn’t much of a talker. In fact some of my early memories of her first sentences were moments like the time she couldn’t find all of the parts to her favorite cup. She came running out of our small, townhouse kitchen and gawked at me with half of a pink water vessel.

“SHIT,” she exclaimed. “My wid [lid] is gone!” I rolled in laughter at that one because I knew it wasn’t my fault. My favorite swear word starts with “F.”

Then came the nickname

Back then our kitchen was completely cut off from the living room. Since she was the second child, we had relaxed the parental oversight (admit it, you did too if you have more than one). We had taken a page from my mom’s playbook and allowed both of the kids to get into a few unlocked bottom cabinets and play with the Tupperware as they saw fit. It’s a noisy proposition, but if you turn up the volume of the TV, you can usually drown it out and squeak in an episode of Game of Thrones while they’re occupied.

Due to that fact, the noise coming from the kitchen one particular Saturday wasn’t alarming (all parents know that silence is what is actually alarming). I heard some things slam, some others hit the floor, and then I heard… nothing. My ears perked but there were no sounds of pain.

“Daddy!” My eyes slowly drifted from whatever super-important cable show had captured my attention. I turned my head to witness a live-version, female Chucky doll with a 10″ chef’s knife in her hand. She raised it up like Norman Bates in Psycho.

“Heee heeeh ehehehehh,” she cackled. Then it was my turn to say SHIT. I rushed over, grabbed the knife, and then saw her marvelous feat of engineering.

The two year old built FREAKING stairs!

Our knife block had been carefully placed at the furthest corner of the kitchen counter. It was nearly out of reach of my wife (she’s even shorter than me), let alone the kids. But my daughter had desired the shiny, pointy thing so much that she had pulled three drawers out into a pyramid, climbed said pyramid, and retrieved the murder weapon.

To be fair, she didn’t recognize the risk she was dealing with. She sure as hell does now, but that’s not the point. The point is she wanted the shiny thing and she figured out how to make that happen.

I’ll keep this one simple

How often do you imagine that completing work is the “shiny thing” people are after? Everyone has different motivation for getting that work done, but the shiny is the goal. When obstacles are in our way, we build steps around them to get to the prize. Any (or all) of those steps could present risk that the worker isn’t aware of, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care about safety. Only that they’re unaware of what is and what isn’t.

The only exception to that I’ve ever seen is if the task that worker is trying to complete is actually to “stabby stabby” someone with a butcher knife (or anything else malicious, but that’s not the norm). In my daughter’s case, we may never know if that was the goal.

So next time you see someone do something really stupid and “risky,” figure out what they’re after. I’m betting it will most likely be successful completion of a task (even if that’s not the result). We need to stop judging the actions of our workers and start looking at the conditions that influenced them. Despite our predisposition to think the worst of people, not everyone is a sociopath with no regard for themselves or others. Most are trying to make an honest living working as hard as they can. Even if they have to build steps into the process that weren’t meant to be there.

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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