Jan 052008

Main Points:

  • Aside from the risk of physical harm, financial harm, there is also emotional harm and social harm (such as a loss in social standing, being afraid of what people might think, being embarrassed, etc).
  • Evolution seems to have programmed us to shy away from social risks, but we can overcome the programming and replace it with our own conscious programming.
  • Awareness is half the battle: The fear of social harm can manifest as a voice in your head saying, “What will people think?”, or it might be the image of someone who’s opinion you care about looking angry and judgmental, or a shadowy figure which ends the thought immediately, or just a feeling of fear. Once you’ve found your trigger for the feeling of fear of social harm, you can find ways to get around it.

For most of us, the risks we take are not physical risks but are social and/or emotional risks. What does that mean?

It means that we take a risk socially (ie risk our social standing, perhaps by embarrassing ourselves or the like), and we take one emotionally (concerning how we feel about the possible social risk).

Our fears are from these risks, as well. Afraid of looking stupid? That’s a social risk.

Evolutionary Psychology suggests that there might be a good reason for being afraid of social risk. In the early days of humanity, we lived in small tribes and since individual human beings don’t have many predator’s features, we had to depend on each other for survival. If you were banished from the group, you were essentially a walking corpse, so it was very important to defend your position in the tribe. Additionally, there were mating advantages to being a higher-status tribe member, which also occurs in other species. I don’t have sources for the following because I’m too lazy to look them up and I might be getting the numbers wrong, but here goes: Higher-status men in indigenous tribes today have 7 times as many affairs as lower status men, thus siring more offspring and passing on their genetic material.

So, perhaps evolution programmed us to be afraid of taking social risks, but we obviously have the ability to transcend evolution’s program. In today’s society, taking–and failing–social risks doesn’t lead to as dire consequences as it would have in the good ol’ days. If anything, most of us probably don’t take enough risks that have a social risk attached to them.

Naming something can help you gain power over it, so just understanding that you are afraid of taking social/emotional risks in particular might help you.

As with many other things, awareness is half the battle. I’ve heard it said that many of us has a voice in our heads that tells us what we can’t do, or what we shouldn’t do. That puzzled me for a while because I only occasionally noticed such a voice in my head. After some introspection and meditation, I discovered that I don’t have a voice; I have a shadowy figure that appears for a split second in my mind’s eye (but I don’t really notice it), immediately after I think a thought that might cause me social risk, such as thinking about doing personal finance talks, and not handling critics well. This shadowy figure seems to be the source of my fear of social risk and puts an immediate stop to thoughts of that kind. Its very effective that way.

Note: As always, comments, criticisms or compliments are welcome. Even just a line to say you read this. :p

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