Lately a common theme has been coming up in our household. This year my husband obtained his dream job that incorporates majority of his strengths: organization, event planning, marketing, creativity, public speaking, sales, networking, design, planning, and budgeting (he’s pretty amazing, guys). But there is a level of public eye and political involvement as well. Anyone who knows him understands he is a very private person and does not desire to be in the spotlight – but he owns it well.
In addition, I have been trying to expand my creativity in my photography, branding, and photoshopping. This creative push brings about new moments of insecurity and fear. It’s this dichotomy of truly putting myself out there, raw and open and vulnerable, but also trying not to put its value in the hands of others. Creatives want to be appreciated and understood but not at the cost of our authenticity. So I stand, alone, in the wilderness and push away those nagging thoughts: “Will anyone like this?” “What will they say?” “What if it falls flat?” It’s a difficult task to add your own value to something despite what anyone else may say about it. Dare I draw the same parallel with God’s work and his relationship to us as humans: He created it. He added priceless value to it, no matter what other people say about it. I’ll never be able to please everyone- and if I have pleased everyone then I haven’t been completely honest in my work. Not even your own stomach agrees with the things your mouth likes at times- what’s that phrase? “What is sour to the mouth is sweet to the stomach; what is sweet to the mouth is sour to the stomach.”
All that to say: our common theme as we both work our whole selves into our projects is this: the critics are here and waiting with baited breath to take down our creations. The tongue is described in accurate detail in God’s word: it is as sharp as a razor, breaking the spirit, devising destruction. It cannot be tamed as it is restless and full of poison- including the keyboard critics. There’s something about typing behind a screen that gives people the unveiled permission to lay out their evil and hate without restraint. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for freedom of speech. But there is a difference between freedom of speech and the freedom to attack and destroy. I appreciate those who are willing to stand up and fight for causes with relentless pursuit -but there are ways to go about this- the legal system, donating time and energy to charities- but keyboard cowards do not add value.
In contrast, we also have the power to build up and create with our words. They can heal, create, soothe, comfort, support, and encourage.
One of my heroes is Brené Brown. This wouldn’t be a proper blog post without mentioning her, hah! She reminded the world of the famous speech by Teddy Roosevelt, a late hero of mine. This speech is the hinge of her book, Daring Greatly. Besides Teddy’s valor and impressionable mustache, he made an impact on me with his words. I know this was Devine intervention because the first time I read it, I saw it more times that same week during a difficult season: hanging in a lawyers office, Pinterest, my book… it smacked me in the face and I fell more in love with it every time:
“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 tell myself and my husband when we face someone who is being critical of our work: is this person in the stands or are they in the arena with us? If they are in the stands (or behind their computer) their words are of no worth or value to us. We see their preverbal pile of stinking poop on a platter they are trying to present to us, sometimes with smiles on their faces. And we don’t stretch out our arms in acceptance to take the poo platter and bring it inside to stink up our house. We simply say “no thanks- I’m currently not accepting poo platters at this time” and try not to dwell on it. But if this person is in the arena with us- if they are volunteering putting 509 chairs away on a cold night outside at 10pm- or brainstorming I our committee meetings and helping make decisions — or sweeping the streets at 11pm – then they are getting their butts kicked right along with us. They are failing and rising with us. They are rumbling and fighting along side us. Those are the people we need their feedback. Because their view in the arena, through their dust and sweat dripping down their faces, is a much different view from those in the stands.
The other interesting thing that happens when you join those in the arena- suddenly you can see their faces- dirt and all. You can see that they’ve fallen many times by how dusty they are. Up in the stands they were mere ant-like creatures running around. But now, you’re closer to them. You learn their names. You see their pain and struggles and they become human. Moving in and moving closer to people keeps their humanity real. You see they are imperfect and struggling, just like you.
There is a psychological thought experiment called the “trolley problem.” In this theory there is a moral dilemma where you see a runaway trolley with 5 people in it, headed to their demise. The track divides ahead into two paths. In one direction the trolley will stop because there is a person in the way of the tracks. This path will kill the one person but save the five. The other path is a cement wall. This route will save the one but kill the 5 trolley passengers. You are standing next to the lever that controls whether the trolley continues on its track to kill the one person or allow the trolley to run into the wall. Do you kill the one person to save five people, allowing the trolley to stop? If you choose the option to kill the one person to save the five people using simply the lever it’s a difficult moral choice but most people would use that option under the utilitarian principle. On the other hand, if you were physically at the train station and you had to push someone onto the tracks to save the five people it would be a much more difficult decision being physically closer to that same person. The theory implies that the closer we are to people physically and emotionally the more difficult it is for most people to cause harm to that person. But if you can remain distant, its as if the guilt has less emotional impact. Thus, it’s much easier to express disgust through text, email, or social media than if you were in person. And if you were involved in the process/committee/event it’s easier to give the people grace because you see them at work. You know they’ve been trying their best and can assume good will. This is why I love Napoleon Hill’s quote: “No one is impressed with the won-lost record of the referee.”
There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” -Aristotle
There will always be people in the stands, hurling their hatred. But you know deep in your heart if you’re the one in the arena of your life, you are making a difference. You are the value.
So I implore us all: If you see a cause or a need in your community, get involved. Put on your boots and hat (cuz we’re in Oklahoma y’all) and walk down the stands into the arena. Get dirty. Fight along side your community members. It’s only then you will have a deeper appreciation, richer relationships, and better success over all.
If you can’t make it into the arena, grab a front row seat in the stands and shout as loud as you can to those in the arena encouraging words, throw roses, snacks, and long distance hugs to them- they need it!
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11 HCSB
“The tongue that heals is a tree of life, but a devious tongue breaks the spirit.” Proverbs 15:4 HCSB
“Like a sharpened razor, your tongue devises destruction, working treachery.” Psalms 52:2 HCSB
“You love any words that destroy, you treacherous tongue!” Psalms 52:4 HCSB
“but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:8 HCSB
“Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21 HCSB