What Do I Give To The One In The Arena?


Bronze medalist showing her opinion of herself

Many quote the old saw about the glass being half full or half empty. As lovely as it is, one can too easily nod like a wise sage and just move on. What help is that, to yourself, to others? This supposedly helpful saying seems to say more about ‘ya win some and ya lose some, too bad, move on’, than anything new or uplifting or revealing. This, I am certain, is partly because we are so familiar with it, familiarity overload. We have become numb. We have been captured by the temptation to not think too much about it, and the same for many other sayings too. Our stimulus response has become numb. We move from familiarity overload into temptation overload, the temptations to just nod and move on seduces. We are numbed.

This is so normal. Are you nodding in agreement or about to yawn and move on?

Fast backward  (yes, backward) to 1910. Roosevelt gives a speech so captivating that it has become a classic often referred to by prominent public speakers. Google ‘man in the arena’ and you will see it. The famous and oft quoted part is just 140 words, only one paragraph, repeated here for you.

“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.”

What is remarkably different here is that Roosevelt is celebrating those that the conventional opinion makers refer to as the losers. The armchair quarterbacks among us complain that ‘they don’t know’ referring to those in the game. To be critical is intoxicatingly easy. Just throw out an opinion that, in hindsight can make any tiny bit of sense and the one in the arena is dismissed.

Whether a person is serving coffee, working in business or trying to lead a Country, that person is the one in the arena. Anyone who steps up to do something, enters the arena. I am here, safe in my armchair. What shall I say, what shall I do, that will make the world, my job, my household, and especially my being with myself, better?  Here we are again, confronted with temptation overload. It is so tempting to just not care. Do nothing or make things even worse, criticizing and even to criticizing the critics. These are temptations too easy to say yes to. They can become automatic much of the time.

When you, as an observer, notice others in the arena, what will you offer them? When you notice that you are in the arena, what will you offer to yourself?

Joseph Seiler MCC