Witness Protection

The daily prompt asks whether when doing a scary thing, you would like to be surrounded by friends or by strangers.

I have done quite a number of scary things. I don’t have a scary life or live exceptionally courageously. Fear is just a part of life. Most of the things that I have done that needed a fair dose of courage I did on my own.

Public speaking is done on my own.

Writing exams is done on my own.

Asking a girl out is done on my own.

But I would prefer to be surrounded by friends. Having social and emotional support when facing challenges is not only something that makes you more resilient, it also just feels better.

Some things are better done between strangers, strangers who have already done what you are only now setting out to do. People who have walked that road, and come out of the valley on the other side. Mentoring basically.

To be a mentor you don’t need to be a leading expert. You don’t even need to be nearly the best. All you need to be a bit further down the road, and not just a complete beginner yourself.

The amount of information that we have to process currently is way to large to be transmitted on a one-on-one basis, and even a one-to-few basis. When you have something valuable to teach someone else, you should embed that knowledge in a medium – be it text, audio, video or something else – and then use technology to give the gift of knowledge to millions of people.

As more and more economies and people move into the sphere of knowledge-creation, the more you have, the more everybody else has. I can give you knowledge, and by implication power, without harming myself in any way. We empower each other. We live in an era of non-zero interaction, and your gain is mostly not someone else’s loss. Win-win has become the norm in business transactions and personal interactions. Unfortunately, we are stuck with instincts and brain patterns that are optimized for a predominantly zero-sum world.

Status is an example of a zero-sum interaction. For each iota of status that you achieve, someone else has to move down the ladder and be nearer to the bottom. If everybody tried to compete in one area – say farming – then 99.999999% of people would not be successful. Luckily we don’t. The farmer only competes with other farmers, the visual artist with other visual artists, and the lawyer with other lawyers. And as the human population grows, diversity will continue to increase at a staggering rate, as everybody tries to compete in a field where there is little competition and it is easy to rise to the top. By increasing the diversity, we can all satisfy our need for status.

This only works when there is sufficient communications infrastructure available. Otherwise, the only Doctor in Snail Metabolism has nobody to talk to who is on the same level and shares a common context of knowledge about snail metabolism.

Romantic partners used to work like this. There was only a small pool of people available for you to choose from, so everybody competed for the attractive and wealthy partners. Today, in modern cities this still happens, but to a much lesser degree. Each person has the potential to be in a relationship with any of the millions of people in the city who are also looking for a romantic relationship.

Back to doing scary things, I would prefer friends for something that is relatively unskilled, or at least very widespread throughout the population: asking someone out for example. For a specific activity that not many people do I would definitely want the reassurance and informed advice of someone who knows the ropes. Rock climbing or bungee-jumping as an example. Now if I can only find someone who shares a lot of common interests with me…

To happiness, and beyond!



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