21 May Survival through shared learning
Learning and shared knowledge, like the kind described in Nick’s post, is how humans became the superior species we are today. Our development of a common language is what puts us above other animals and helps us make situations safer by learning from the past.
Prehistorically, it took generations to evolve new ways of coping to changes in our surroundings, like needing to have a thicker coat to deal with colder climates. But once early humans developed a system for representing their environment with drawings and eventually names and labels, we could communicate quite literally about the impending danger we’d witnessed.
Like when we tried to bring down that herd of wild horses, we drew it on the cave to share that knowledge with others in our tribe and develop our strategy on how to catch one without succumbing to the same fate as our predecessors. We may lose the first, but others can learn from their demise. Not a recognised proactive method we could allow today I know, but at the time it was better than losing half the tribe before we realised this is at least a two man job.
So using language is universal to all humans, no matter where they are in the world. Each language has a more or less complex structure, but it will be how they communicate the key messages to their younger members and teach them how not to get hurt among other things. As parents we’re all programmed to tell our children the rules of society either to be safe or to be accepted. Our use of language and symbolic representations (images) of our world has allowed us to very rapidly overcome many of the major survival issues that other animals faced and didn’t always survive. Like what can I eat safely that won’t poison us now our usual source of berries has gone.
Animals do learn from experience, and they do pass this on to their young in some species, but it’s very rudimentary compared to our system of achieving knowledge and usually involves being sick a lot until you find a new source of food that doesn’t make you too ill. Whereas we would gain information about the dwindling resource and decide as a group on a unified courses of action, namely move and find more of the same.
Ok, so why am I discussing evolutionary psychology? Well if we’re going to prevent injuries and stop people being hurt we can do a lot by talking about it. We have to accept that we need to develop our strategies and knowledge all the time to remind us how to cope when it all goes pear-shaped and the inevitable accident happens.
If we’ve been actively listening to our colleagues in other areas of the business or in other companies within the same industry, we may well gain a heads-up on how a particular set of circumstances led to a particular outcome. So we’re able to put in a contingency that means that when that same accident had happened on our site we were ready and it didn’t injure anyone, or we avoided it altogether by changing our situation.
But for this to work, you have to be ready to listen when people try to share their stories with you and you have to be prepared to share back and sometimes we’re not too good at this. If we think people may judge our actions as daft or stupid we won’t come forward and disclose them unless we can’t get out of it, thus leading to only the big incidents being reported and investigated and the little near misses and unsafe acts go unheard.
It’s this learning through sharing that’s a part of our evolutionary heritage and it could save the life of someone else if they act on what you tell them. So take some responsibility for the survival of the species into the next stage of our evolution and share your stories.