Tuesday, October 30, 2012


A fail-safe device is one that, in the event of an operational malfunction, is capable of compensating automatically and safely for such a system failure. It does this in a way that will cause little to no harm to other devices, or danger to personnel. A common example is found in traffic lights. It incorporates a controller known as a conflict monitor unit to detect faults or conflicting signals, which will then switch an intersection to all flashing red, rather than displaying potentially dangerous conflicting signals, e.g. showing green in all directions. The traffic signal may fail, but the intersection will be "safe" in that all traffic will be required to stop, thus avoiding dangerous collisions. The traffic signal is designed to fail-safe.

Many other potentially dangerous situations are averted by fail-safe designs. Air brakes on trucks and trains will automatically be applied when there is an air-pressure leak. Lawnmowers and snow blowers will automatically shut down when the pressure lever is disengaged. Elevators have a system to stop the cabin from free-falling if the cables fail. Computers are designed to shut down if the CPU overheats. From ordinary fuses interrupting electrical power to the sophistication of Apollo moon landings, fail-safe systems have and continue to prevent injury and death.

I believe we also need to employ a fail-safe design when we raise our children. That is, we need to design an environment that allows them to fail safely.

When our children first enter the world of playgrounds, we hover and watch over them, protecting them from all possible harm and danger. Every young child is taught to slide with their feet first and sitting upright. Then, later on, we let them venture into the yard, where they can perfect their playground performances, perhaps experiencing a head-first belly slide. They may think we are not there, but we are, watching from the window, prepared to spring to their aid should the need arise. We then progress and allow them a short foray to the neighborhood playground unsupervised. We may not be at their side, but we are within our comfort margin. Soon, too soon perhaps, comes the time when we allow them to go to the playground, with friends, without any immediate supervision. But our years of teaching have instilled in them a fail-safe device; if they fail, they know they are safe with us.

I think it's important we build in a way for our children to fail -- and to be safe in their failing. I have watched too many children frozen to the point of inaction, gripped by the fear of failing and disappointing their parents. I have seen too many children hide their mistakes to escape the consequences of failure and, in the end, not receive the beneficial instruction that learning from their mistakes can provide.

I think it wise for us to build into our children a fail-safe mentality that allows them to risk, without the fear we will do them harm should they fail.

No comments :