Here we go, plunging headlong into the holidays once more. It should be one of our finest hours. Well, shouldn’t it? Chestnuts roasting on the open fire. Hallmark Card moments. Visions of New England village greens. All that caring and sharing, caroling and toasting.

But we know what lurks behind the dancing sugar plums. Arrgghhh! It’s miles of malls. Lines at the Post Office. Parking lot fender benders. A string of lights with a missing bulb. Dashing out for a tree, a card, one more present.

That’s not the way it should be, right?

The weight

Ah, the weight of the “shoulds.” Holiday time is a great example. So was our recent White Paper reader survey, particularly when we asked about job satisfaction. Only 31 percent of you answered in the affirmative. For most, the job is not working out the way it should. The shoulds give way to the blahs.

Baby Boomers are particularly prone to coming down with a deflating case of the shoulds. The Conference Board earlier this year reported that the lowest job satisfaction found in a survey of 5,000 households was among 45-54 year olds. Only 47 percent professed to like what they are doing. And most ISHN readers fall into that cohort, too, according to our surveys.

Boomers (your editor included) have been sold a bill of shoulds since we were first plopped down in front of that boob tube. Our parents raised us according to the book of shoulds passed down by Doctor Spock. Then we were fed a daily diet of commercials, sit-coms, and family hours — the first “media generation.” Consequently, we developed rather lofty ideas of the way things should be. Silvery Ben Cartwright and steady Andy of Mayberry doling out wisdom. Uncle Walt Disney. Father Knows Best. Prime time gave us the “right” way for families to act, for friends to help. The right way to look, dress, party, and be a success. And wasn’t it neat how any problem was always wrapped up by the end of the show?

No wonder jobs, careers, relationships, you name it, tend not to pan out as us boomers envisioned. This goes for safety and health programs, too.

Safety work is full of the shoulds. Employees should follow the rules. Report incidents. Describe near-misses. Participate in meetings. Managers should walk the talk. Supervisors should model safe behaviors and attitudes. Safety should be a core value. OSHA should leave us alone. Feedback should follow observations. We should actively care for each other. Be our brother’s and sister’s keeper.

Sure we should. But it’s a setup, of course. Life just ain’t “Real Simple,” as the magazine promises. Whose abs are ripped like the guy on the cover of “Men’s Health”? Whose bathroom measures up to the standards of “Beautiful Baths” magazine? Who’s as organized as Martha Stewart (“organized”, I said) and as positive as Oprah?

High standards

Whose safety and health program is everything it should be? Little wonder job satisfaction scores low. The bar in safety is set high. No one gets hurt. That’s the expectation. The goal. The mission. Few jobs come with such ideals for making a difference. But then reality kicks in. Beancounters slash budgets and staff. Supervisors don’t have time. Employees (some) resist. The hand of chance doesn’t respect the shoulds, either. Still, pros go on, promoting and defending the way investigations should be conducted, records maintained, procedures followed.

A career in safety and health is a long time to be living with the code of the shoulds, the inevitable disappointments, and other people’s (often stormy) reactions to what they should be doing for safety. The responsibility can weigh you down, burn you out. The antidote?

Well, boomers consume racks of self-help tomes at Borders and Barnes & Noble. These guides show us how to “stop the clock,” “slow down to the speed of life,” “reactivate the deepest part of your mind.” But be prepared to read more lists of how things should be.

It’s impossible to avoid the shoulds. Here is one, courtesy of the Dalai Lama. He’s no safety authority, but at least His Holiness’s shoulds are more gentle than many. “Cultivate a wide perspective,” he writes in “The Art of Happiness.” In other words, don’t expect the holidays to be as relaxing as Andy Williams’s TV special.

As one safety pro said in our survey: “Even with the hard work, time sacrificed and mediocre pay, this job pays out in more ways than one. You get paid for a job that you like to do, and you get to save lives in the process. Not bad.”

Or as another enlightened safety manager said, “It’s time to take up the guitar.”

— Dave Johnson, Editor