Who is in the arena with you?

“A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

Brene Brown

I heard this quote referenced by someone that I really respect yesterday and had to go look it up. Specifically the quote that she referenced was: “if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” I love that last sentence but I think I appreciate the wisdom in the prior lines just as much.

It is so easy for people to get in the arena and feel that they have the right to criticize and attack simply because they are present. Don’t believe this is true? Sit in any football stadium in America and listen to the fans around you. You will hear things like “that referee is blind,”“the quarterback missed a wide open receiver, he can’t throw the ball,” and “the coaches don’t know what they are doing.” Are the fans right? Maybe sometimes they are. But they aren’t the ones on the field. They don’t have the pressure of having to perform in front of others, they can simply sit there and offer input without having had to invest any blood, sweat or tears. Now I have been guilty of doing this plenty of times myself and unfortunately it isn’t just when I have been at a sporting event…

I believe that the most beautiful wisdom in the quote is contained in the lines right before the part about getting your ass kicked: “The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives.

Who are you letting into your life? Who are you giving permission to provide feedback that truly matters and is meaningful? Are those people in the arena with you?

There are really two ways a person can be in the arena. They can be there in the literal sense, side by side in the fight. Or they can be there with you in spirit fighting alongside you and supporting your struggle. The key is that they are fighting with you, not attacking you. They are on your side. If they aren’t then they truly aren’t in the arena with you, or perhaps they are, they are just on the other side of the sword…

The arena quote that Brene is pulling from is one of my all time favorites and I have a copy of it on a plaque in my office that I reference regularly. Here it is in it’s entirety:

“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.”

Teddy Roosevelt

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