I was a bit unhappy watching Manchester’s heads of police, fire and rescue, and ambulance services on telly today. They were flagellating themselves about mistakes made on the night of the terrorist attack.
The unnecessary death of one of the victims is tragic. But when service chiefs promise to make changes to ensure that such a thing can “never happen again”, they are promising things that are impossible to deliver.
Psychologists (should) know this, of course. There is no ‘perfect’ in life. When we eliminate one source of error, we often introduce the genesis of another. Countless examples… When we try to adhere to rigid and formal rules, for example, the result is often delay – where an immediate response was essential.
Humans are fallible. We all make mistakes every day. Happily, most of us will go through life without making a mistake that will lead – tangibly – to a tragedy. People working in emergency services do not enjoy this luxury.
Piling broad-based criticism, demands and expectations upon people working in emergency services will not deliver perfection. It can’t.
Indeed, criticism is likely to produce the opposite effect. It introduces a delusion that perfection is possible. And it depresses morale in services that are already expected to produce the impossible on an almost daily basis.