Guest blog: Tim Sillay (Wellington, New Zealand)
I'm angry. It appears that as a society, we are hell bent on eliminating risk. There doesn't appear to be any sensible discussion on acceptable levels of risk, witness the current implementation of the health and safety legislation. When you see a site board on a building site list 'uneven ground' as a hazard, it is obvious that things have become seriously retarded.
Now I'm not saying we should stand idly by and watch people bury depleted uranium, or leave boxes of dynamite laying around school playgrounds, but these futile attempts to wrap the world in cotton wool are breeding entire generations with no ability to assess or manage real world risk. What it is breeding is an entire generation of 'non-producers', paper shuffling bureaucrats whose job it is to police this whole mess.
Let's face it, we've cut down all the trees in the playgrounds and removed all the really fun playground equipment, so little Johnny has no idea that walking on a slender branch will eventually result in hard contact with mother earth. You can't play bull rush or ball tag, so he also has no idea that fast moving people or things really hurt when they hit you... How are you going to figure practical application of geometry if you don't live the dream of 'tangent to the arc' on the witch’s hat? How do you figure out that some kids are better at sport, some are better at math and some are just plain stupid if everyone gets a certificate for participation.
So by the time Johnny has completed his tertiary education and graduated with real world skills in something like coffee making, subsequently sued his employer for allowing him to come into contact with a hot cuppa and taken a nice safe office job as a health and safety inspector in an egalitarian agency where everyone has an opinion and everyone’s opinion matters, little Johnny, with no ability to judge what is and is not a real world risk, with no concept that someone may be smarter, more experienced or just plain crazy is the man who may eventually rise through the ranks and craft policy.
With no one to argue the toss, the policy pendulum has swung firmly to the outer limit of 'no risk is acceptable' and 'all people are equals'.
Which is patently ridiculous. This is just not the way the world works. This is what happens when as a country, you stop producing things. You lose the generational memory and experience of what it means to balance risk and reward. You forget that some people are good at thinking about stuff and some people just like to do stuff. The western world would not exist if it was settled under this legislation. When the thinkers start mandating to the doers, or the doers revolt against the thinkers, when you reach a point in the development of civilisation where no injury, code violation or upset feelings shall go unpunished, you are, quite frankly, fucked.
But here I find a startling double standard. Let's start with a Saturday evening some three weeks ago when I received the unsettling news that a wonderful lady and long time acquaintance of ours had been murdered by her friend. Shock, disbelief, anger but most of all a sense of a grand imbalance in the fabric of the world. How can such a gentle girl have met such a violent end? What possible sequence of events led to this? How did we as a society so obsessed with the elimination of risk let this happen?
And there it was, that of which we shall never speak, our old bed fellow mental health. Over the last 30 years as we moved inexorably towards this sham world of universal acceptance, equality, tolerance and non-productivity we forgot that crazy people are actually crazy.
Somewhere, in spite of all the signs to the contrary, we forgot all about unacceptable risk. I fail to see the chain of logic symbolised by these responses:
Somewhere, the policy wonks ran riot over the doers, those who lived the reality of day-to-day life with the insane.
I can hear the sharp intake of breath. I can hear the agonised humanitarian wails of "You can't say that". I can even hear the bean counters rationalise it on a cost basis. I bet if you listened carefully, on a quiet day where the wind is blowing in just the right direction, you'll find an actuarial report that rationalises the occasional damaged child or other collateral damage about a crazy person gone off the rails.
But you'd better be whispering. We NEVER discuss this kind of thing in polite society.
So here's a brief history lesson. Teenage Suicide. It was a bloody epidemic in the 80's. I lost several from the circle and it hurt. It hurt a hell of a lot. Witnessing the grieving parents of a teenage girl will stay with me forever. It was more horrendous than the senseless killing of my friend by a crazy person, in as much as there is a scale for these things.
It obviously was a problem, it obviously wasn't acceptable. So what did we do as a society? WE STARTED TALKING ABOUT IT.
So I applaud the news that Coroner Michael Robb is conducting an enquiry into mental health related killings. Long may it make front page news. Maybe, just perhaps, this senseless, vile, unfathomable thing is the point where we all cry ‘enough’.
Guest blog: Tim Sillay (Wellington, New Zealand)
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.