Back in 1981 when I was an impressionable young man of 19, I lost a very near and dear friend to an industrial accident. He was electrocuted when he contacted live power lines while painting a building.
That incident changed me in a real body and soul sort of way and I often use the lessons I so bitterly learned from it to keep me grounded, and to motivate myself or others in many aspects of my life, including training.
Whenever I notice the discussion in a training program, consultation, seminar, etc., going the wrong way, like toward quibbling over rules and regulations rather than considering truly important issues like health and safety (or life and limb), I try to turn the emotional manifestations of my experience into some form of cerebral logic I can use to get myself and/or others back on track.
The “emotional manifestations” I mentioned usually take the form of bad memories and the positive effects they have had. If that doesn’t make any sense, try to imagine a young man (me) that, like so many young men, thought he was bulletproof. I had never had any significant experience with death much less the loss of a close friend in the blink of an eye. Nor had I ever heard the mournful wail of adults (the parents) like I did at the funeral of my friend. I didn’t understand the true gravity of the situation until six months later when I picked up the phone and began to dial my buddy’s number and only then realized that he was gone forever. Then came the awful bouts of depression, the sleepless nights, the inability to concentrate and the unrelenting burn from the hole in my heart where my pal used to be; I wasn’t bulletproof any more.
As for the positive effects; suddenly all the rules made sense. The eye-wear, the steel toed boots, the hard hat, the high-visibility wear and of course, the training, they all became relevant and valid concerns to me. My most important realization was that staying alive wasn’t something that was just going to just happen, I was going to have to work at it and the day would never come when I wouldn’t.
Safety is now a philosophy with me, not just a word. A philosophy that is observed all of the time whether buckling up to operate a forklift as I did for 8 years or when donning protective eye-wear before firing up the lawn trimmer at home. Living safely has taken a huge load off my mind as I know it will keep me from injuring myself and others while psychologically insulating me from the negative emotions I associate with that horrible event in my past. My respect for safety and the tempering of the years have deadened the awful sound of that crying, the sense of loss, and the occasional pang of pain in my heart. They have also motivated me to actively avoid any sort of activity that may lead to causing those very same feelings in my family and friends.
I often think of my old buddy, especially at this time of year when we reflect on what we have to be thankful for. He would be 45 now and I wonder who he would have become, if we would still be friends and how many more good times we might have shared were it not for that split second in history that, in hindsight, could have so easily been avoided. I think of what his parents must have gone through and being a parent myself, I wonder what they must still go through to this day.
I guess the message here is that the motivation to live and work safely is not in the rules and regulations or avoiding the consequences of non-compliance, it is within the quality of life and even life itself. So try to keep your sights fixed on the things that are truly important and only you know what they are.
This is the season to reflect on and be thankful for everything we have. Unfortunately, for me and too many others, it is also the season in which we reflect on what we have had, and lost. Forever.
Have a safe and happy holiday. ‘Tis the Season!
Director of Training
IVES Training Group
Did you enjoy this article? Sign up for our newsletter to receive more like this!