Risk vs. Reward in Human Relationships

September 15th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

In the previous post, we identified some fears that hold people back from taking more social risks, including the fear of others forming a negative opinion of you and the fear of hurting others through social interaction with them, fears that would be eliminated if you were dealing only with computer-generated characters in a simulation instead of real-life human beings.

I think these points are valid to a degree. You would incur less social risk with a simulation as opposed to real humans.

But consider an alternative viewpoint…

You cannot do much to help simulated characters grow or contribute to their lives in a meaningful way (at least not with today’s simulations). But you can have this kind of positive impact with real human beings.

What would happen if instead of focusing on the fear of negative consequences from social interaction, you focused on the anticipation of positive consequences, such as forming new friendships, helping people grow, making people laugh, falling in love, etc.?

Would you not then be even more eager to socially interact with real human beings and less so with simulated ones? Would you rather hear “I love you” from a simulation or a real human being?

If it’s not real, then you take less social risk, but you also gain less reward. Dealing with real humans increases both the potential risk and the potential reward. Your actual behavior will be largely determined by which side you predominantly focus on — minimizing the downside or maximizing the upside.

When it comes to real-life human relationships, what’s the biggest risk in the long run? Is it the risk of committing social mistakes that may lead to embarrassment and hurt feelings? Or is it the risk of holding back and doing nothing, missing out on some potentially rewarding long-term relationships?

As I see it, a bit of occasional embarrassment is a small price to pay for the rich rewards of meaningful human relationships. Our imaginations can transform these fears into fire-breathing dragons, but in reality these fears are little more than puny imps guarding a massive treasure, easily defeated once you finally decide to face them down.

When I get involved in new social interactions, whether meeting new people, doing public speaking, or even blogging on topics such as these, I always run the risk of making a fool of myself. But I also have to consider the potential rewards of changing people’s lives, forming new friendships, and spreading ideas… not to mention all the long-term ripples that flow forth from those effects. And to me that possibility makes the risk very much worth taking because the potential upside is so much greater than the potential downside. As a practical matter, the worst realistic downside is a bruised ego or a damaged reputation. I’m OK with that though. Making a fool of myself now and then helps me not to take myself too seriously and to laugh at my own foibles. But I’m not OK knowing that someone I could have helped is living a life far below their potential because I sat on the sidelines and did nothing. To me that is too big a risk.

So recognize the (perhaps even greater) risk you take by avoiding social interaction — the laughs you never shared, the people you never helped, the potential spouse you sentenced to solitude…. That’s quite a price to pay simply to avoid a little (usually harmless) embarrassment.


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