Positive Social Risk
I have always believed in the notion that people matter. After all I have worked in Residence Life and residence life is all about people, whether it be our residents living in our buildings, the RAs that we supervisor or the co-workers that we work with on a daily basis. I was fortunate enough to hear a keynote speech from Chad Littlefield at a departmental retreat that I attended the other day and something in my brain just connected to the work that I do on a daily basis.
First off, a note about Chad Littlefield, Chad started the Clown Nose Club at Penn State University 4 years ago. The overall mission of the clown nose club, according to their website is:
” In short (very short) our mission is to challenge ourselves and others to take positive social risks. And why would we want to do that, you ask? Because our philosophy is that people matter and authentic positivity freakin’ rocks! Zing!”
Positive Social Risk…Hmm, I bet you are wondering what that means. Well let’s first look at the definition of risk shall we. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) the origin of the word risk is a little obscure with scholars dating it back to the 1600’s from the French “Risqué” meaning danger or inconvenience, predictable or otherwise. Scholars, though uncertain feel that the word can be traced back to Ancient Greece and Rome. The OED thinks that the post-classical Latin word resicum meaning “danger or hazard” could date back to the ancient Latin word resecum meaning “that which cuts” meaning the dangers or hazards associated with navigating the seas.
Regardless of the actual origin of the word though, the definition of the word risk, carries with it a negative connotation:
1) (noun) (Exposure to) the possibility of loss, injury, or other adverse or unwelcome circumstance; a chance or situation involving such a possibility
2) (verb) To endanger; to expose to the possibility of injury, death or loss; to put at risk.
The problem though with this definition, by its very nature being negative is that it precludes that risks can be positive, that they can be a good thing, that they can cause us to grow, to develop, to learn, to explore what’s outside the box.
This idea of Positive Social Risk though is not completely foreign. Psychologists Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor created a theory called the Social Penetration Theory. The foundation for the theory surmises that as people get to know each other and build close connections with each other their interactions become more genuine because they have put in the ground work to build the trust between each other.
The concept of Positive Social Risk basically speeds up this theory of Social Penetration. Instead of taking time to really build a rapport with someone and to ensure that there is enough time to build up securities before dropping walls, positive social risk is more of an immediate reaction to make a positive impact in someone’s life. For example, as the clown nose club explains, the next time you go to the grocery store tell the cash register that you appreciate everything they are doing and be genuine and sincere in thanking them. There is an immediate positive impact made in that person’s life based upon a “risk” that you chose to take.
The real question here though is…why wouldn’t you? What do you have to lose in making a positive impact in someone’s life on a daily basis. If they look at you funny so what, move on. In this theory, the risk is minimal but the impact could be so great, so meaning, so important.
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