Wednesday, Feb 1, 2023

Safe or Sorry?

In a Perfect World

 

You’re all familiar with a game called “Let’s Make a Deal,” right? In case you’re not, let me give you a thumbnail sketch. You, the contestant, are facing three opaque curtains. Whatever lies behind one of those curtains will belong to you. The choice of which curtain to open is yours to make. And it will be, by necessity, a blind choice.

You choose Curtain Number One. It swings open to reveal, say, a sophisticated sound system. Naturally, you are delighted with this prize. The sound system now belongs to you. It’s a sure thing. When the game is over, you will get to take it home and enjoy it.

But not so fast. The game’s not over yet. Here’s where it starts to get interesting! You are now offered another choice: keep the sound system that you found behind the first curtain, or give that up by choosing to open either one of the other two curtains. Either of which might conceal an even more amazing prize. Or not.

I’m sure you understand the dilemma. Do you hold onto what you already have, or take a chance on something you cannot yet see? That “something” may be as awesome as a new dining room set or a trip for four to Eretz Yisroel… or as unexciting as a set of tumblers.

You have no idea what lies behind Curtains Two and Three. However, you know exactly what lay behind Curtain One. That nice new sound system is what we might call a bird in the hand. Do you let that bird fly away for chance to win something even better? Or do you stick with what you know, the sure thing, even though it may turn out to be far less valuable than what you might have won had you taken a chance?

The key word in the question is “chance.” This is every gambler’s dilemma: to be safe, or to possibly be sorry. You can picture yourself dancing with joy over that dining room set or the trip to Eretz Yisroel. You can also picture yourself being very disappointed if you find that you’ve given up a neat sound system for nothing much. What to do?

I remember a trip to California that my husband and I once took to attend a cousin’s bar mitzvah. The plane stopped in Las Vegas, Nevada to refuel. In the airport were a few slot machines, offering travelers a taste of what that notorious city has to offer. We decided to try our luck.

All I was willing to invest was one dollar, so we stuck a bill into the slot machine and waited to see what would happen. To my delight, we kept winning! The prize money slowly added up: five dollars, ten, fifteen… When it hit twenty dollars, I couldn’t take the tension anymore. “Let’s stop now!” I begged my husband. “Otherwise, we could lose $20!”

“Not really,” he corrected me. “All we’d really be losing would be the one dollar we started with.”

That was true. My gambling spree was a modest one, without much at stake. When it comes to real-life “gambles,” however, the stakes can be much higher. Do we give up a job we don’t particularly like, but which provides a steady paycheck, in order to look for something that may be more to our liking? What if we don’t find it? Does it make sense to give up a sure thing for something that may never materialize?

We can ask the same questions about moving. You’re not thrilled with your house or your neighborhood, but you’re settled. Then again, there may be something better down the road. Do you give up what you have, however less than perfectly satisfactory, for the possibility of finding something better elsewhere? To answer that question, we need to bear in mind that the “something better” is only a possibility. The other possibility is disappointment. Do you want to be safe or sorry?

Not forgetting that you could end up safe and sorry…

***

Let’s take a different kind of example. Suppose you are in shidduchim and have reached a point in your dating where you’ve met someone interesting but it’s not yet “serious.” It’s early days. For now, you can simply enjoy one another’s company and exchange lighthearted conversation while slowly getting acquainted. Sooner or later, though, the time comes to move on to the next level. The talks become deeper and more personal. Depending on how that goes, here comes the biggie: deciding whether or not to make a lifelong commitment to that person.

When you reach the more personal stage, you can no longer hide behind funny anecdotes from seminary or camp. To confine yourself to casual chitchat would be not only inappropriate, but counter-productive. The time has come to express things that you may feel deeply or even be ashamed of. To open yourself up and become vulnerable. If you let him see who you are deep down, with all your fears and frailties, there’s a chance that he will reject you. Yet, if the two of you can traverse that delicate piece of ground with acceptance and understanding, you’ll both come out at the other end feeling happier and more confident in the relationship.

There is a deep reserve that deters us from exposing our most personal selves. Frankly, it’s scary. It’s scary because what the other person hears may repel him and make him turn away. There is no other way to the sunlit plain than by climbing that rocky mountain first. But climbing the mountain does not guarantee success. If you’re brave enough to make that climb, you may get your heart’s desire… or find yourself nursing a broken heart, or at least a broken ego. It’s a gamble.

Sometimes, we just can’t do it. We simply cannot dredge up the courage to make the leap, whether to a new job, a new neighborhood, or a deeper relationship. Anxiety or caution urges us not to take the risk. For a different kind of temperament, however, a love for adventure may goad him into courting possible danger in the hopes of a positive return. As the saying goes: “No pain, no gain.”

Being understandably averse to pain, we human beings are gung-ho to protect ourselves from it. In any gamble, you are playing with fire—and fire can either warm a person or burn him. The problem is that the future, like the curtain in our mythical game of “Let’s Make a Deal,” is stubbornly opaque. We have to choose blind. We just don’t know what the outcome will be.

We can consult wise people. We can daven for clarity. Ultimately, though, the decision is ours to make. Do you stay on firm ground, or take a leap into the void? Do you take a chance, knowing that the result could be either losing the sure thing already in your hand… or finding a treasure beyond your wildest dreams?

Do you play it safe or take the risk of being hurt? What do you do when the reward for that gamble may be either heartbreak or euphoria?

Curtain One, Two, or Three? Which will it be?

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