I told my sister about how delightful I find my fellow volunteers at the therapeutic riding barn. Most of us are old horse girls, no longer riding, though we still love horses and know our way around a stable. We sometimes tell each other the same story more than once, and every few weeks one of us is off to have a knee replaced, to start physical therapy, or to consult with eye specialist.
I really enjoy these people, and when my sister heard that, she said, “Why don’t you plan something social? A brown bag picnic, a delivered pizza lunch. Doesn’t have to be off-site, but sounds like a fun group to spend time with.”
I was… well, not stunned, but taken by surprise. Sister Dear went straight to the logical next step in building friendships: We have a lot in common, we seem to be good company, let’s try expanding our footprint just a little. But those steps did not occur to me. Did not even wave from my peripheral awareness, and I’m supposed to have a good imagination.
Fast forward to the weekly raid on Petsmart, and two young women from my former barn flag me down. We caught up on all the news. Barn manager ridin’ buddy has just committed to getting her horse a custom-made jumping saddle. The investment will be pricey for somebody on a limited income, but it’s much cheaper (and safer!) than trying to train a horse with a sore back. Working Student ridin’ buddy is looking for a horse to lease, a move-up horse who can get her to the next level, but not hold her there when more levels exist to be conquered.
My impulse in both cases was, “I can help them with those goals…” Meaning I can write a check. When the community swimming pool sent out an email asking for volunteer board members, my thought was, “I can write pretty well, I understand contracts, I have a master’s in conflict. I could probably be useful to them…” On the one hand, my impulse to be helpful is genuine, and I do like to see organizations and friends (well, almost everybody) thriving.
On the other hand… I know squat about running a swimming pool, and nobody has asked me to sponsor their equestrian ambitions. At the same time, my sister’s suggestion–that I just hang out with potential friends–struck me as extraordinary.
It occurred to me that by being helpful, whether I”m offering financial support or contract drafting, I’m playing it safe. I use my checkbook or skills as a pretext to participate (albeit vicariously) in somebody else’s dream or challenge. My ego and my heart aren’t on the line, because I’m the donor, the cheerleader, the pro bono lawyer.
I hope some of my magnanimous inclinations are motivated by genuine big-heartedness, but I have to admit that I’m also at a loss when it comes to those brown bag picnics and happy hour pizza parties. I am much less sure of myself in purely social situations, and I’m a warp nine introvert. What if I get it wrong? What if I can’t locate all the exits? What if I’m not near an exit when I need one?
Much easier to play it safe, keep it about skills and objectives, and nosh on the protein bars I always have in my purse. Easier and safer–or is it?
How do you play it safe?