Be wary of the man who urges an action in which he himself incurs no risk. – Joaquín Setantí
What does that mean?
Often cited to Seneca, it appears to actually be from an Early Renaissance Spanish Philosopher. But either way, it is a useful quote to consider.
What happens when you take action? You have the possibility of risk. That is fine, if you are willing to take it, and will benefit from the task. If not, then you are being used in some manner. It’s up to you to determine if you think it’s worth it.
This activity, the urging of others to take risks for you, is frequently called manipulation, and several other, and much less pleasant things. Sometimes it’s for your children, or other family members, and done willing or only slightly reluctantly.
This is as much a warning to you to avoid that person as it is a warning for you to avoid being that person. You don’t want to be known as a manipulative jerk, do you? I would hope not.
Why is weighing risk against the reward important?
All of the things we do come with an element of risk. In eating, we might choke, yet the benefit of eating and the rarity of choking makes the risk worth it. But would you risk choking if someone else was going to get to taste all the yummy food? If you incurred the risk, and they got the reward?
That is what the quote is about, and we need to figure out what we are getting out of the deal. Sometimes it is about money. Other times it is about gaining experience. It can be about exposure and visibility, as well as about giving of ourselves. But first, we have to consider the risk, and what we get for it.
That’s not to say we need to be mercenary about what we do, but we do have a right and an obligation to protect ourselves against risks we deem excessive. That will be subjective, and for some people and in certain situations, we might be willing to risk it all, even though we may end up with nothing more than satisfaction.
There are only so many things we can do in a given day. We need to prioritize what we will do, and what we will put off for another day. Weighing the reward against the risk is one of many ways we can determine what value or importance to apply to any given task.
Where can I apply this in my life?
We can start by questioning, in an appropriate manner, the motives and motivation of any person urging us to take action where they do not. It might be as simple as they are unable or are too far away to act in time. Or they might have determined the risk was more than they could tolerate.
That doesn’t make them bad, but you have to determine whether it is a risk which makes sense to you. If a pet has bumped the table, and the lamp is about to fall over, you might risk minor injury to save the lamp (or avoid having to clean up the mess), even though someone else is urging you to do it.
But if someone asks you to try to snatch a bag of gold from a trapped alcove, and risk your health, and possibly your life, you might rightly expect a little something in return, right? Again, it gets back to what you feel the risk is and how it relates to the reward you expect to get, or have been promised.
If someone is urging you to rob a bank for them, or to ‘hold’ (temporarily hide) something illegal, you are taking a big risk. What are you getting out of it? Hopefully something worth the risk, right? But if it is illegal, the risk is pretty high, if you are worried about getting caught.
In short, the quote is urging us to think before we act on behalf of another, lest we get a raw deal. It is urging us not to allow ourselves to be used by the people who are unscrupulous at best. If they want you to take the risk, then you should get an appropriate reward.
The other side of this saying is that you should be careful to not become that person who sits back and asks others to risk themselves for your personal gain. Again, there are times when it is necessary and appropriate, but there are also times when it is unnecessary or inappropriate.
Learning to tell the difference and to act appropriately is an implied part of this quote. Being careful about what we ask others to do, especially when we are unwilling to do it ourselves, is something to keep in mind. And remember that it is different if we are unable to do it ourselves, that is asking for help.
If one person treats another in such a callous manner, can they be a friend? I doubt it, or at least I wouldn’t consider them a friend if they put me at risk for their gain. Conversely, I wouldn’t consider myself to be behaving as much of a friend if I were to do that to someone else.
Think long and hard before you ask someone to do something you are unwilling to do, to risk themselves for your gain. And consider carefully any offer which places you at risk for no real reward. We all have our limits. A favor is one thing. Going to jail or being maimed for life is quite another.