Look for the Helpers

We wish the world would be more like a kid’s show instead of a place of violence such we saw in the needless bombing during the Boston Marathon.    

Wholesome, nurturing, recreational events shouldn’t be the stage for tragedies happening right in our neighborhoods.

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Wouldn’t it be better to live in the neighborhoods devised by Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers?  Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood came into our households in 1963 through 2001.  There were puppets and trollies, sweaters and songs.  But Mr. Rogers did not shy away from the real world and its challenges.  His kids’ program dealt with death (of his goldfish), assassinations (John F. Kennedy), divorce, and war.

His advice is very compelling:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” 

            Fred Rogers, The Mister Rogers Parenting Book

This profound advice has been quoted a lot recently as we’ve confronted tragic events such as the Boston Marathon Bombings and the Newtown school massacre.  I personally was reminded of it in a political cartoon that had me lost in thought for long moments.

It had me considering how we tend to remember and react to negative events more than positive ones.  This phenomenon is a common finding in Social Psychological research.  We form negative impressions faster that positive ones and they are harder to change.  Heck, we even think people who talk about negative things are smarter than those who talk about positive things!

I talk to many safety professionals who share the common tension that a bad injury can occur any minute.  Some have problems sleeping some nights waiting for that call from the plant.  Injuries and critical close calls are negative events that can have a strong lasting impression that can consume even the most seasoned safety professional.  Such a strong impression that it may blind us to the positive.

The helpers, Mr. Rogers, are numerous.  We don’t have to wait for an incident to see those heroes that step up quickly, remove hazards, and offer aid and comfort.  Instead notice the helpers doing their small and large acts each and every day.

Notice the employee who voluntarily observes a peer working and offers feedback about risks he saw.

Notice the supervisor who does an extra-thorough equipment inspection during a shut down to assure it won’t be a hazard in the next work cycle.

Notice the manager who is willing to come to the floor to better understand a work team’s safety concern.

…Lending a hand on a hard job, doing housekeeping, conducting a safety talk, submitting a close call report, serving on safety committees, mentoring a green hand, participating in hazard identification, properly completing a Job Safety Assessment (JSA)… the list goes on. 

The helpers abound, look for them, reinforce them and grow them.  If you surround yourself with them, and take Mr. Roger’s advice (well, technically his mom’s advice), you’ll build your resilience (and happiness) to take on not only the emotional jolts that come with injuries but also the more mundane downers like budget cuts, the disgruntled employee, the leader that says silly things, whatever.

There is a Behavior-Based-Safety-Manager-Extraordinaire who I’ve known for many years now.  I’ve begun to consider him to be not only someone I learn from but a friend as well.  His wife suffers from a condition that has rendered her paralyzed.  His dedication to her is inspiring.  But I have to think that part of his personal coping strategy is to surround himself with enthusiastic, dyed-in-the-wool type folks who help everyday build and maintain their world-class BBS program and keep their plant and contractor workforce safe. 

I’ve been to their plant a couple of times now, its cool to see. I think I tend to look to those and similar HELPERS when the Newtowns, Sandys, and Bostons happen.  Or when the smaller challenges happen in life. 

Honestly, perhaps this little Safety-Doc newsletter is my way to surround myself with you, our Community of Helpers. 

Anyone who does anything to help a child (ed. ‘we are all children’) in his life is a hero to me. ”

Fred Rogers


Timothy Ludwig’s website is Safety-Doc.com where you can read more safety culture stories and contribute your own.  Dr. Ludwig is a senior consultant with Safety Performance Solutions (SPS: safetyperformance.com), serves as a commissioner for Behavioral Safety Accreditation at the non-profit Cambridge Center for Behavioral Studies (CCBS: behavior.org) and teaches behavioral psychology at Appalachian State University, in Boone, NC.  If you want Tim to share his stories at your next safety event you can contact him at TimLudwig@Safety-Doc.com.



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