Playing it Safe (#96)

Last week, I wrote about how having the freedom to fail is an integral part of growth and how many parents are failing this test. In response to last week’s post, a friend sent me an article titled, “The Fragile Generation.” The author opens with an anecdote of a teen boy who was chopping some wood to make a fort with his friends. An onlooker notified the police who arrived at the scene and “took the tools for safekeeping to be returned to the boy’s parents.”

The author writes, “We told a generation of kids that they can never be too safe—and they believed us.”

This need to be “safe” has evolved part and parcel with the explosion of the internet and social media.  Many of the things that have a very low probability of bringing us harm are sensationalized online and in the news; because we see it happening on the internet and how horrible it is, we start to question our safety. For example, the leading cause of death in the US is an unhealthy diet, not any of the things we read about in the news. Yet … we aren’t blocking the doors to McDonalds.

Our inclination to seek “safety” removes a degree of risk-taking in our lives that is necessary for getting us out of our comfort zone, such as travelling to new places, trying new foods and interacting with people of different background and beliefs.

Our physical need for safety has also evolved into an emotional need. This comes at a very high price.

One emotional cost is that more and more people today are delaying – or altogether missing – adult milestones; landmarks that come with a certain degree of risk, such as buying a home/living on their own, getting married or having kids.

If we try to ensure that we, or those we love, will never get physically or emotionally hurt, it’s unlikely that we’ll lead fulfilling, prosperous lives.

This is a big problem; one that is not easily solved. That being said, I believe one area where we can all start to be more growth-minded and a little less safe is in our communication and feedback. Often, we don’t say what we really mean. It’s either safer not to or it helps us (or the recipient) maintain the status quo.

One of the best frameworks I’ve come across around feedback is from Kim Scott’s new book, Radical CandorBe a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. Radical Candor, she argues, should be the default form of both personal and professional feedback.

One of the quadrants in the Radical Candor graph that gets less attention, but is often our automatic form of commutation, is “Ruinous Empathy.” This is when you care about the other person and their perspective, but you don’t tell them what they really need to hear, which is likely to be a tough message and/or the truth as you will see in this sample video.

According to Scott, Ruinous Empathy comes from our desire to try and control other people’s feelings, something we should not and cannot do. While it may come from a good place, it is also a misplaced, misguided effort. It’s about being safe.

This week, let’s encourage open and vulnerable communication. We may get our knees skinned – we maybe even get rejected outright — but at least we’re living authentically, growing and working toward empowering ourselves and others.

Quote of the Week

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”

John A. Shedd

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