Is something ‘wrong’ with Britain?

Neurosis, also known as psychoneurosis or neurotic disorder, is a “catch all” term that refers to any mental imbalance that causes distress, but, unlike a psychosis or some personality disorders, does not prevent rational thought or an individual’s ability to function in daily life. (From: Wikipedia)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric disorder, more specifically, an anxiety disorder. OCD is manifested in a variety of forms, but is most commonly characterized by a subject’s obsessive (repetitive, distressing, intrusive) thoughts and related compulsions (tasks or rituals) which attempt to neutralize the obsessions. (From: Wikipedia)

For some time, I’ve been wondering why Britain seems to do some things, insisting that they are the ONLY RIGHT way or the BEST way to be. A classic example was our pursuit of quality management. Back in 1979, the British Standards Institute (BSI) published BS5750 – a standard for the management of quality based on the generic military standards. The Government of the day promoted these heavily and tens of thousands of companies were assessed and awarded the standard and its international equivalent, ISO9000.

Myths began to emerge that if you wanted to do business in Britain you HAD to have BS5750 accreditation. Of course, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. Had it REALLY been the ONLY PROPER way to do things, then you’d expect many businesses around the world to have adopted it. Strangely, this isn’t the case and yet those businesses often thrive. Today, while some UK industries still demand ISO9000 accreditation, few new businesses seem to bother and yet they succeed commercially.

A similar phenomenon can be seen in the Financial Services area, where we make a song and dance about ‘compliance’ and every firm you ring seems to have a taped disclaimer to play you about the nature of their advice. At one point, even radio commercials would be followed by a ‘statutory’ notice. Have you EVER heard similar messages in other countries? When you pick up an inflight magazine, notice that the British companies all have them and the foreign ones don’t.

At the moment, all British Ambulances are being painted bright yellow to conform to an EC ruling. Strangely other European countries don’t seem to be doing so!?

You’ve only got to look at French, German, Spanish, Portuguese or Italian electrical wiring to see that it is made to far less exacting standards and installed with far fewer safeguards than the British equivalent. Yet, do these countries have higher rates of electrocution or electrically-induced house fires? No.

British motorcyclists are exorted to wear leathers – for their own protection – and police motorcylists are perfect role models. Next time you go abroad notice what their bikers and motorcycle police are wearing. In most cases it’s a textile jacket in the cold weather but shirts and cotton breeches when it’s warm.

A popular moan when Brits go abroad is that the standard of driving elsewhere is so poor compared to our own. We even have TWO organisations offering ‘advanced driving’ qualifications (the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the RoSPA Advanced Drivers and Riders Association). To the best of my knowledge the only places similar organisations exist are former colonies where these bodies undertook some kind of outreach work. We seem to ignore the fact that, with the exception of a few notably poor roads (ironically often ones that are particularly popular with Brits) these countries don’t appear to have higher accident rates. In fact, kids in the US can drive younger, and the test is far less onerous, while in this country our insurance costs are far higher to the point of being prohibitive for many youngsters.

Next time you have a chance to chat to a foreign business-person, ask them what kinds of insurance they have. A typical British firm (even a small one) has public liability, professional liability, employers’ liability, and directors’ liability. You’ll find that few foreign firms would even consider such things. Yet they do perfectly well commercially and there aren’t loads of pending lawsuits against them.

Health and Safety is another example. It staggers me the complexity of the H&S legislation that must exist given the number of times I hear it cited as the reason for a particularly obscure rule. Someone tried to tell me the other day that teachers were forbidden from helping little children to blow their noses because of the H&S legislation. Who are they kidding? Show me the Act of Parliament that says that!

In Britain now, just about anyone who works with children has to have a Criminial Records Bureau check. This is a retrospective check to determine whether they have any convictions (not specifically for crimes of violence or related to children, but generally). Organisations such as the Girl Guides, the Amateur Swimming Association and so on have formal policies and protocols telling clubs and employers what they must do with these records and many insist on a fresh check regardless of how recently an individual has had one done for another body. This got to such a state at one point that teachers were being told that they couldn’t start work one September because the CRB was so inundated that they had weeks of backlog. Does anyone know of ANY other country that allows public access to the criminal records of almost everyone? The only one I can find is the US, where the local police MAY let local residents know if a released paedophile is living in their vicinity. And do we have a much lower rate of crimes against children as a result? I don’t think you’ll find we do.

So… lot’s of examples of what I will term an ‘obsessional neurosis’. It doesn’t stop us functioning, it can even be justified as ‘best practice’, yet it doesn’t actually lead to any great benefit. Instead, like the sufferers of an OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) we end up wasting vast amounts of energy and resources and demonstrate all the symptoms of anxiety;

OCD is different from behaviors such as gambling addiction and overeating. People with these disorders typically experience at least some pleasure from their activity; OCD sufferers do not actively want to perform their compulsive tasks, and experience no pleasure from doing so.

OCD is placed in the anxiety class of mental illness, but like many chronic stress disorders it can lead to clinical depression over time. The constant stress of the condition can cause sufferers to develop a deadening of spirit, a numbing frustration, or sense of hopelessness. OCD’s effects on day-to-day life — particularly its substantial consumption of time — can produce difficulties with work, finances and relationships.

The illness ranges widely in severity. OCD is not curable, but it can be treated with anti-depressants. This illness affects millions of people worldwide, and the number keeps growing. (From: Wikipedia)

[The application of psychoanalytic concepts to the study of organisations and society as a whole, is a growing field of academic inquiry. If you are interested in learning more about it, visit the website of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations (]

Best wishes

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