We Write the Books We Need To Read

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By Phil La Duke

There’s an expression among authors, that “we write the books we need to read” and I have been thinking a lot about it.  I ask myself questions like, “do I see in myself that what I loathe in others?” and “am I truly provoking people to get them to think or am I just provoking people for provocation’s sake?” I don’t worry too much about it, I read somewhere recently that as an author “some people will love you and others will hate you; write for the ones who love you.” So I try to be sincere and not to pander to critics who hate me, simply because they choose to hate a complete stranger. The saying, you may notice, doesn’t say “will love your work but love YOU.

Years ago I was at the National Safety Council and as I walked the expo floor one of the exhibitors lept up and yelled, “you’re Phil La Duke! I Hate you!” We talked for a couple of minutes and stayed in touch.  I don’t know if he still hates me, but we’re cordial so it doesn’t really matter. It’s not easy or fun to be hated by strangers, but I honestly have long since given up trying to win over people who hate me, because I recognize that what they really hate is the message.  If they got to know me they might actually like me or at least stop hating me, but worrying about the opinions of strangers is the path toward mediocrity.

People describe me as passionate about worker safety but I am not.  I am passionate about changing things for the better, I’m passionate about making workers’—all workers’—lives better and that is something that I think we all share.  Yes there are people out there who are selling “solutions” who don’t really care if it improves the lives of workers, they sell their PPE, or their safety software, or their safety culture interventions, but if they examine their conscious they will recognize that if their salaries were suddenly cut in half they would take no solace in the fact that they are selling a better product. Then again who’s kidding who? I would quit my job in a second if they cut my salary in half, so this isn’t about calling out someone who also would quit.

People hate change.  They will eventually accept it, but they will never forgive those who bring it, and I bring change.

As you read my work—especially those of you who hate me and it—to ask yourself what is it about the idea that is so threatening? What is it in YOU that makes you hate it? What changes in you does it put under the magnifying glass? If you still can’t see it then you really need to look harder. I’m not exactly preaching heresy when I ask what kind of sociopath introduces (via a poster or coloring contest) the idea to a 6-year old that while they’re at school mommy and daddy may be dying a gruesome death.  That is a heavy trip to lay on a kid, and it’s tantamount to child abuse. I know a lot of you think I’m overreacting and that it’s all in good fun but it’s torturing a child for crying out loud. If you think that is harmless fun you need to change.

I guess it’s the new year approaching that makes us all a little introspective, and I’m certainly not immune to that. I have been writing this blog since 2010 and another that got me in so much trouble with my employer that I had to stop writing it (it ran from 2006–2009) so all and all I’ve been writing for going on 13 years. I have had one goal: change one person.  When we change a single person we change the entire universe. Writing this has changed me. I am more defensive of workers and more sensitive to blaming them for their own injuries. I once thought Heinrich’s Pyramid was a useful tool, and now for the love that is all that is holy I can’t come up with a single reason to parade that tool out to bored workers who already know that if you have enough hazards something somewhere is going to hurt someone.

I used to think that workers bore the brunt of keeping themselves safe, and while I may take the occasional swipe at the safety person, it’s not because I believe it’s their job to keep workers safe, it’s because they claim that they save lives.  Workers can only be so safe behaving safely when you have 499 other workers around you who are poorly trained, distracted, fatigued, impaired, or simply not following the processes.

Front-line supervisors are primarily responsible for keeping workers safe. It is they who see the big picture—of all the parts working as a system.  Middle managers have to stop forcing production over safety and then blaming others for the decisions they made and the blood on their hands. And executives have to stop supporting safety philosophically and start supporting safety operationally.  But for those things to happen YOU have to change. We teach operations about safety. They get all their knowledge about safety from safety people. Many of them have picked up snake oil from previous jobs and will try to get you to use it. We have to challenge them, not like an adversarial jerk but as a key counselor; a source of new knowledge and wisdom.

I do a lot of telling and not a lot of asking, but today I am asking everyone who reads this to make a commitment to change.  I can’t tell you what, but I can tell you how to find out. Think of all the things you are doing in safety and ask yourself “is this working?” and the things that make you squirm, change them.  Also, I want you to pick one person at your company that you will have changed. Changed significantly. And I want you to pick someone that will be hard to change—the more miserable the asshat you change the more that change will manifest in many more positive changes, and pretty soon, without employing some expensive consultant or adopting some half-witted fad you can find that the change spreads like wildfire.

Oh and remember, the person you may change might just be you.

Did you like this post? If so you will probably like my book which can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Nobel.com. Did you hate this post? Did it offend you deeply? Maybe you should organize a book burning (minimum of 150 books) but be sure you are only burning my book, I don’t want you to go to a used book store and buy a bunch of cheap books and stack mine on top.

The book is a compilation of blog posts, guest blogs, magazine article (from around the world) and new material. Much of it is hard to find unless you know where to look. A second and third book has already been green-lighted by the publisher (expect fewer reprints and more new material).

In a couple of weeks my second book will be out and I will be nagging you to buy that. So you’re already behind the 8-ball.

Remember the holidays are coming up and this book makes the perfect gift for the person for which you feel obligated to get something for but don’t really like.

In all seriousness, I have been blogging for free for over 11 years and I think I have earned a bit of revenue so buy the damned book.