May 13

Are You in the Arena or in the Stands?

May 13, 2015

Personal Growth

In 1910 Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech in Paris, where he said, “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 have read this passage many times, but recently a beloved friend gave me a new perspective on it when she wrote that “the people who love me, the people I really depend on, are never the critics who point at me while I stumble. These true supporters are not in the bleachers at all. They are with me in the arena, fighting for me and with me.”

Most of us are severely weighed down—even crippled—by evaluating our worthiness according to the people in the stands. When we disregard these people—although their numbers and the volume of their feedback are often enormous—we become free. We realize who we truly are. We can CHOOSE to ignore the jeering from the stands. We must ignore them while joining hands with those who struggle with us—even rejoice with us—in the arena.

It has been a great realization for me that I can care deeply about other people while caring nothing about what they think of me. There is great freedom and power in this understanding.

It is ironic that the people who loudly voice their opinions from the stands are those who are least involved in their own arenas. They have no life of their own, except to criticize the efforts of others, and thus they disqualify themselves as meaningful sources of feedback for us. We can trust, however, those who are sincerely involved in their own arena, who understand the value of sweat and blood and falling down, over and over. It is these people we can reliably listen to.

Recently I received a call from Sharon, who said, “My sister doesn’t love me, my mother doesn’t love me, my ex-husband doesn’t love me.”

“And you feel bad about it,” I said.

“Yes.”

“Stop it.” Because we had already discussed the Roosevelt quote, I added, “You’re listening to people who are sitting in the stands. They don’t know you, they’re not in the arena with you, and their opinions simply don’t matter.”

“So how do I ignore them?”

“First, remember that they don’t know you. Second, remember that I DO know you—I’m in the arena with you—and I think you’re spectacular. I love you, and that’s what you need to remember. When you do remember, you won’t hear the criticism from the stands.”

Nobody can live our lives for us, and very few people will ever understand us well enough to qualify as standing in the arena with us. We must not listen to the people in the stands, nor BE in the stands with those who criticize others who are giving all they have in their own struggles.

Real Love and Freedom for the Soul

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