Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech in Paris in 1923. He spoke on many topics including history, family, and rights, but he became more impassioned in his words as he addressed the problem of critical bystanders in our world. The people that stand and point fingers and criticize others’ efforts to improve their situation. The people that mock others for their faults and failures. The ones that put others down so their imaginary, stationary thrones may be built upon a higher mound. Roosevelt vehemently addressed this issue as 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.
About 90 years later, Brené Brown wrote a book relating this speech to our modern time, which is entitled “Daring Greatly”. Dr. Brown researched human beings for decades, specifically focusing on human emotions and feelings of shame, vulnerability, and empathy. Dr. Brown noticed how people nowadays shy away from relationships. We shy away from intimacy. We are scared to be seen by other people, because if we let another person close enough to us then we will get hurt. Or they will see us for who we actually are instead of who we pretend to be, and in that moment they will leave us. We carry fears and anxieties with us everywhere, because we are terrified to enter into a real relationship or situation that may cause discomfort and challenge us. It is here that we each have a decision. To dare greatly and enter into the arena, risking pain, discomfort, security.. etc. Or, to not allow ourselves to be seen, and keep a mask on so as to hide from everything unfamiliar.
In a short story by Chris Crutcher I recently read, there is a scene where this high school boy is getting dressed in his tux at home before a big dance where he is being honored in front of everyone. The boy is extremely anxious about his weight and size, nervous about being with the pretty girl he gets to escort, and terrified to dance with her because he thinks he is a bad dancer. He’s flooded with these emotions and in the midst of his negative self-talk, his step-dad walks in his room. The man understands his situation and tells him that Superman isn’t brave. The boy is puzzled and does not is how that statement relates to anything current. Then the man explains. He says the Superman isn’t brave because he’s indestructible. He has nothing to lose. There’s no risk when he goes out there and faces whatever evil or villain is in the world. He tells the boy that it’s people like them that are brave. The ones that could get hurt but take the risk and put themselves out there anyway. That’s brave. He walks out of the room.
You can only be brave or courageous if you allow yourself to be vulnerable.
“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
-Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
David Slaying Goliath by Peter Paul Rubens