As beings-in-the world that are thrust into the world there is so much over which we have no choice. We don’t get to choose if we come into this world. We don’t get to choose the timing – we are thrust into this world when we are thrust into this world. We don’t get to choose our family – we get what we get. We don’t get to choose our language – we get what we get. We don’t get to choose our culture – we get what we are given. And so forth. So it is tempting to fall into the pattern ‘I have no say in the matter of how I show up in life!’ and live accordingly
We do have a fundamental choice over how you/I are being as beings-in-the-world. I get that most of us are not present to this choice nor the default setting. Yet, that does not change the fact that we do have this fundamental choice. What am I talking about? I am saying that you and I have a say in how/where we show up. When I say how/where we show up I am talking ontologically – that is to say I am pointing to a way of being-in-the-world. So what exactly is this fundamental choice?
You/I can show up in the stands as spectators watching the spectacle – life – occurring in the arena. And as such we can observe, we can comment, we can criticise, we can enjoy or not enjoy…… Whilst it is less effort, more convenient, it is also the case that for many of us it leaves us unfulfilled, without joy, and from time to time wondering “Is this all there is?” Showing up as spectators in the stands is the default setting
Alternatively, you/I can actively leave the comfort of the stands and step into the arena. Put differently, you/I can choose to show up in the arena and shape how the game (of life) turns out. Being a player on the arena involves more effort, more work. It also requires courage because we are on show standing for what we say matters to us and thus open to criticism, ridicule and even attack. In some cases, we even put our lives at risk like Malala Yousafzai, 14 year old girl, attacked for championing education for girls and highlighting Taliban atrocities.
By this stage, you/I might be wondering why leave the safety/convenience/comfort of the stands for the risk/effort/vulnerability of being in the arena? Because you/I want to experience a certain kind of living, a certain kind of life. A life of meaning, of absorption, of fulfilment, of joy. It matters to us, at some fundamental level, that you/I live lives that matter, that are authentic, that are fulfilling. Those of us who chose to show up in the arena as players/actors/creators are not faced with the question “Is this all there is?”.
As you/I ponder this fundamental existential choice, I wish to share this “Man in the Arena” passage from a speech from President Theodore Roosevelt, Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, France, April 23, 1910:
“It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, 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 and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; Who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”