EHSDA Shorts: What Do Shakespeare and EHS Have in Common?

In this installment of EHSDA Shorts, Louis Wustemann, writer and speaker on Health, Safety and Sustainability Issues, explains what William Shakespeare’s plays and Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) have in common.

This clip was taken from a webinar titled “Safety Leadership of Shakespeare’s Works.” The full session is available for FREE on-demand here.

This webinar was sponsored by Ideagen.

Transcript (edited for clarity):

Question: What do Shakespeare and EHS Have in Common?

Wustermann: We’re not going to find much on confined spaces or musculoskeletal disorders in these works, but he was very interested in leadership and risk appetite. I think one of the things I always had to sort of caveat these sessions with, and we started with the safety leadership lessons of Star Wars back last year, is that safety leadership is leadership.

There’s not some kind of special safety leadership that is separate from leadership, it’s about actually leading people and encouraging them to do the things that you want them to do that are also good for them, so that’s why we’re looking at Shakespeare.
I think the ones we’re going to focus on mostly are the tragedies and one particularly of the histories, because those are primarily about leaders, kings, and generals. There’s one exception in the tragedies, which is Anthony and Cleopatra; that’s an amazing work, but it’s very hard to draw lessons out of because it’s such a kind of weird modernist, kind of like a Cubist picture of two people.
But that’s the only of the tragedies that really has a female protagonist. These are people who make leadership decisions. And in the case of the tragedies, bad leadership decisions. Aristotle defined tragedy as great men laid low by reverses brought on by their own misjudgments or their own character flaws, but often more the misjudgments than the character flaws.
It’s more interesting if they’re not in themselves completely just hobbled from the start but they just take the wrong path at a certain point. Why do people go and see this stuff? It’s a really interesting question. Aristotle had an answer for this as well. Why would you go to the theater to be made miserable to watch other people’s misfortune? And his answer is that it’s catharsis, that we live it through them so that we don’t have to do it ourselves. It feels it’s a bit like throwing up emotionally.
But I think for our purposes in safety leadership these things are really, really useful because there are mistakes that people make that we can learn from.