The blue pill or the red pill

matrixWhen the movie ‘The Matrix’ was released in 1999 I was blown away by not only the plot, but also the visual effects. I associated with the film, its story, and ultimately – that there is no spoon. I’m sure that I’m not the only one that associates their beliefs with other films. I’m sure there are plenty of people that love the Da Vinci Code for example – those films that seem to challenge the mainstream belief.

The Matrix was also charged with making famous the pop culture symbols being the blue pill and the red pill, which represents the choice between the blissful ignorance of illusion (blue) and embracing the sometimes painful truth of reality (red). In the movie, the main character Neo is offered the choice between a red pill and a blue pill. The blue pill would allow him to remain in the fabricated reality of the Matrix. The red pill would lead to his escape from the Matrix and into the “real world”.

So, this is a safety blog and I should endeavour to convey some relevance of my ramblings into something more useful. But, I already know that you already had thoughts when reading the first couple of paragraphs that it does relate to safety or at least safety differently… It’s about taking the red pill and challenging the status quo. What indeed is the fabricated reality of safety? Is it that people are the problem? If you follow procedures then you won’t get hurt? If you adhere to the lifesaving rules your life will be saved? Is it the legislation, the safety management systems, the safety products, the regulators (Agents), the safety training, what the big companies are doing?

Does the fabricated reality of safety keep humans enslaved to it, kept docile in a simulation of a safe environment – the Matrix? Are we, and our abilities, imprisoned by the reality of safety?

So what of the red pill approach? If you took the red pill and followed the rabbit down the hole what would you see in the “real world” of safety? Would you see that humans are creative, adaptive, emotive, expressive, have a will to live, be successful and contribute… workers that are reliable?

I’m not advocating that you go out and start popping red or blue pills to find the answers, but metaphorically, it’s worth a bit of self-reflection of what pill you would take if presented with the opportunity to follow that rabbit down the hole – to look at safety differently.

Watch the red pill, blue pill clip now that you have ‘safety’ on the brain and see if you can associate with what ‘it’ is, the Matrix – the fabricated reality of safety. I’d be interested in what you think?

Now, if you haven’t seen the Matrix, I suggest you find a DVD and lock in a couple of hours on a Saturday evening and enjoy a good movie for the sake of entertainment.

Finally, just for kicks take a look at the ‘there is no spoon’ clip from the movie the Matrix, and replace the word spoon with safety… that should get you thinking.


  1. Kelvin Genn Reply

    Just about to take my red pill. Think I left it on the spoon.

    A great doco – the matrix! We need more movie parallel universe movie analogies. Sometimes we are so entrenched in a myopic world, that we need an out of body experience to alter our frame of reference.

  2. Andrei Stewart Reply

    Hi Shane,

    Nice piece and funny timing for me. I have been thinking about how I could use red pill/blue pill from The Matrix, as I write a psychological perspective analysis of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. I’ll let you know how I go with it.



    1. Shane Durdin Post author Reply

      Hi Andrei,

      Thanks for the comment. Quite the disaster you have chosen to tackle. Real irony in that case where 3 guys were directly blamed for their part in the tragedy; however, the root cause presented was about organisational culture.

    2. Andrew Townsend Reply

      Andrei – email me. I have some unpublished data that shows significant and sustained periods of increased incident rates following reorganisation. About the time of Herald of Free Enterprise the British and American governments were opening up almost everything to ‘competition’ and organisations were going through forced changes. If it is of any use to you, you are welcome to use it.


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