Near Miss

In the world of industrial safety there is an important concept called "near miss" (which should really be "near hit," but . . . oh well) that refers to an incident that might have been an accident, but wasn't.

Like someone opening an office door into a hallway and almost hitting someone who was walking in that hallway. Or someone operating a forklift truck who almost runs into a worker.

You may ask, "Hey, If an accident did not occur, why should I care?" You care because one of the best ways to improve safety is to heighten everyone's awareness of it. Tracking and discussing near misses is one way to do just that. Learning from near misses and making proactive improvements in the safety of the work environment is a great way to prevent serious safety incidents from ever happening in the first place.

The planet Earth just had a near miss. Several hours ago, in the early morning hours of July 3, an asteroid whizzed by, just beyond the orbit of our Moon. It wasn't just a pebble or a rock. It was a big one, half a mile in size, big enough to have had a major impact on us had it struck the planet. Science has discovered that big asteroid hits can have serious effects; ask the dinosaurs.

Applying the science of safety to a planetary near miss, what can we learn from this? What improvements can we make in view of this near miss? I'm sure there are small armies of researchers out there figuring out ways to prevent such an incident in the future.

But let's take this beyond the realm of safety.

Whatever religious, political or social squabbles the dinosaurs might have had with one another were ended in one fell swoop when that asteroid hit the Earth. All of their hopes, fears, and dreams were blown away.

This could be our fate as well.

Years ago, I read a series of books by the late anthropologist Carlos Castaneda where he documented his interviews and experiences with a brujo named Don Juan in the Mexican outback. One of the lessons he learned was how to regard Death:

"Death is our eternal companion," don Juan said with a most serious air. "It is always to our left, at an arm's length. It was watching you when you were watching the white falcon; it whispered in your ear and you felt its chill, as you felt it today. It has always been watching you. It always will until the day it taps you."

"The thing to do when you're impatient," he proceeded, "is to turn to your left and ask advice from your death. An immense amount of pettiness is dropped if your death makes a gesture to you, or if you catch a glimpse of it, or if you just have the feeling that your companion is there watching you."

"You're full of crap!" he exclaimed. "Death is the only wise adviser that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you're about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you're wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, 'I haven't touched you yet.' "

A near miss, like our companion Death, has not touched us . . . yet. Are we awake to its message?

Are we listening? Learning? Changing?

Posted by Terrence Seamon, 07/03/06


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