This quote from Theodore Roosevelt rings very true for me this past week (forgive the lack of gender pronoun inclusivity as a sign of the times it was spoken):
“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.”
I went back to this quote after listening to the researcher Dr Brene Brown talks about shame and vulnerability and her own experience of stepping into the arena and coping with the consequences. I have been accused of a lot of things this week, being nice, not meeting expectations, failing to demonstrate rage, playing favourites. Keyboard warriors one and all as far as I can tell. In the mean time I have showed up and met with elected officials, debated long and hard with facts and evidence on how some changes can be made with high impact and low action, what levers can be used that will unify and get a result, held myself to account by using non-violent communication techniques, practicing adaptive leadership and trying to have some fidelity to Kahane‘s approach to collaborating with the enemy. I have had mixed results from my practice. It is very hard with the enemy is within, and speaks their own truth from their own arena. One of the reminders for the week is the need for times to withdraw, retreat and indeed cut off supply so that you can recover and stay in the arena you are being called to be in. Daring greatly is the quest to keep showing up in the arena, because as Roosevelt says its not the critic who counts.
While we need the critics to sharpen our senses, help steer a course even sometimes, they aren’t the ones who show up in the doing. The role of the critic maybe akin to the modern day medieval jester, substituting the rattle for a keyboard, ringing to draw attention to arrival and departure. How effective their power is deployed is determined by the amount of attention we pay to their bells and buzzing. Unlike the role of the fool in Shakespeare however not all modern day jesters speak the truth, they often amplify fake news and use their voices not as speaking truth to power or offering up a riddle to decode, they make noise to draw attention to themselves at the expense of the issue. Some of our most famous ones are in the media – think radio shock jocks and columnists, social media junkies.
As we are on the verge the largest shared responsibility action in human history, people choosing to stay home to help ‘flatten the curve’ of the COVID-19 are helping their neighbours, showing care and support acting to support one another and may lead to more community, more safety for all and have the surprising side effect of supporting the aged, infirmed and vulnerable. It maybe a time too for those jesters with microphones and keyboards to have deeper impact, so beware that in times of fear seeds of anxiety can rapidly be watered and grow into out of control weeds. Stay in the arena by connecting and having conversations, give yourself a break if you need to have one, cut of supply if it becomes toxic for you and use that time to regroup before you go back. I have been thinking about what I can do to support connectivity at this time for myself and others. I have decided to do three things: not going to the shops without asking at least one person if they need me to bring something to them, offering up a nightly zoom to anyone who might want to jump on and say hello to others and working from home. I also got a call about a project this morning that I think could be a game changer so stay tuned for that in a future post. This is a time for community strengthening because of social distancing, not in spite of it. The virus might spread community spirit and community responsibility and that may well be its gift to our times – it is bound to be helping out Gaia to take a breath! Such a paradox with so much potential.
The dynamics of a virtual arena are going to take us to new edges and unleash innovation, lets not count the critics contributions, instead notice and celebrate our leadership marred by dust and sweat and blood, and meet the cold and timid souls with warmth and courage. That seems to be the quest: to hold these tensions together without quite falling apart yourself.