Monday, 23 April 2012

The Man in the Arena

April 23rd is a day notable for numerous things, such as Edmund Ironside coming to the throne (1016), King Charles II doing the same (1661), and much more recently, the 30th anniversary of the ZX Spectrum.

But it's also the anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt, fifth cousin of FDR, giving his "The Man In The Arena" speech in 1910, shortly after he finished his stint as President of the United States of America.

It's a particularly powerful speech, up there with the Gettysburg Address by Lincoln, or Kennedy's "We choose to go to the moon". The key passage is:

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.

In this third decade of mass Internet use, where seemingly everyone is in the cheap seats looking down to the arena floor, on social media or the comments sections of online newspapers or news channels, on a thousand service and person and industry "ratings" websites, it seems particularly apt. Everyone is a critic; "this is no good, this will not work, this is wrong, this person failed". And on the counterside, with the use of services such as Tumblr and Pinterest, everyone also point at things and say "this is good, I like it, look at it, you might like it too, I'm going to share it with you".

It's not the greatest coincidence so many websites have ratings systems, for content, services and comments, where you click an up-thumb or a down-thumb. Everyone gets to be the Roman emperor in the arena for a brief second, except that instead of a fearful and adoring crowd, and a life and death decision on a whim, the thumb-clicker merely adds or subtracts a 1 from a digital tally. It's ... not really the same. More like a field of indistinguishable rabbits, hopping around, thinking bunnily "Do I like this blade of grass, or do I not?"

Breeding like ................

But non of it is making, or achieving something. Unless you count a thousand likes on your Pinterest picture, or a thousand retweets, as something. But will you remember it in a years time? Or, if you do, even care? Or will you remember every thing that you approved/liked, or disapproved/unliked? Any of them.

The real achievements come with battle, hard work, uncertainty, dedication. Making the world a little different post-battle to how it was before. The things Teddy said, and alluded to. The things that take more than a few clicks on a thumb or 'like' icon while you're sitting on your butt, staring at the screen.

Stride into the arena. Do your thing, that thing, the thing you want to do, need to do to feel fulfilled. Risky or not, succeed or fail, you've had an adventure, made a story, made some content, an anecdote, to remember. Because you tried. The critics? Always been critics, always will be. But when you both reach old age, you'll be the one with the life story, and the satisfaction, for having fought.

Rather than the critic who just continually 'liked' or 'disliked' things in an stream of such items on the screen. You do not need their approval.

So stride into the arena...

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