There's something I was thinking about this morning, which I plan to write about in a different forum, but it called to mind Theodore Roosevelt's, "the arena" quote. And perhaps it came to mind because I'd only recently read Steve Makofsky's blog post about the arena.

In case you don't click through, here's the famous passage:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." - Theodore Roosevelt

And he also includes a quote from Brené Brown, who I adore, but who I think is wrong on this issue:

"If you're not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback." — Brené Brown

Makofsky is making a different point in his post about our "inner critic." It's a valid point, one that I agree with, but it's not the point of this post.

People kind of "get" Roosevelt's point, about the nobility of daring and striving and devotion. But I've seen this passage most often used as a means of deflection, as a defense mechanism to reject criticism; and indeed to cast aspersions back on the one who dares to criticize.

And here's a weakness of "the arena" as metaphor: It divides us.

It divides us into those who are "in" the arena and those who are supposedly "out" of the arena. Spectators. People dismissed by Brown as being "in the cheap seats."

And here's another weakness of the arena. By describing everyone not in the arena as mere spectators, "timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat," who aren't "also getting your ass kicked," then the people so gloriously described as "in the arena," are not creators, they're performers.

"Are you not entertained?" Maximus, Gladiator

Here's the reality: We're all in the arena. Shakespeare knew, "All the world's a stage."

If you're LGBTQI in Florida, trying to live your identity in a political culture that's trying to make you disappear, you're "in the arena also getting your ass kicked.

If you're struggling with student loans, you're in the arena.

If you're Black in an America that wants to wish away systemic racism rather than confront it and deal with it, you're in the arena.

If you're a parent, you're in the arena.

If you're someone dealing with health issues, especially in America, you are so in the arena.

We are all in this together.

Everyone gets lost sometimes, and partly that's because we don't listen to voices that come from "the cheap seats." Sure, hurt people say hurtful things. But it always pays to listen. It always pays to be interested in the feedback.

Here's a better quote of uncertain provenance:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle you know nothing about.

It's a better attitude. And something to keep in mind when offering criticism, or receiving it.

Originally posted at Nice Marmot 09:38 Monday, 17 July 2023