Last year, I read Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly. I’d seen the Ted Talks, and her emphasis on the importance of vulnerability when it comes to innovation, along with her obvious courage, was inspiring. She seemed kind, warm and humorous, and she was open to sharing her own learning, her struggles, and the people who had backed her in the process. She spoke of the vulnerability hangover, the fear of putting your best work out there, and the value of those who are willing to stand beside you in the arena when the rest of the world criticizes from the side lines.
True courage is about getting into the arena to try, Brene Brown argues. It isn’t about overcoming all obstacles, and it isn’t about being all things to all people. It is about sharing creativity, insights, or those qualities which mean the very, very most. And sometimes, when you are covered in dust, when you can’t see your way, when the colors around you blur, and when you feel dizzy, daring greatly is that much easier when you have support.
It may be the unconditional support they offer which makes animals so valuable to people. Animals trust us, we can care for them, and when we do, that care is often returned in abundance.
When I read Brene Brown’s work on Daring Greatly, and the importance of having somebody stand in the arena with you, it made perfect sense. At the time, my daughter had been watching (and reading) The Hunger Games, and the scene where Katniss refuses to kill off her district partner, Peta, preferring to eat poisoned berries alongside him rather than have the games turn one against the other was truly memorable. They survived, and Katniss was told to emphasize the loving relationship between them for all she was worth. Nobody defies the rules of the game like that, after all. But Katniss didn’t need to emphasize care. The viewers had seen it played out before their eyes, and it moved them enough to see the humanity within two contestants over and above the rules of the game.
I’ve been lucky enough to have unquestioning support during some very difficult situations. There have been times when I have done things which were unintentionally very short sighted, or, at times, completely thoughtless, but the people who stood by me and offered support have meant so much. Knowing that somebody else cares without judgement helps a lot when you want to give up, bury your head in shame, or even when you feel bulldozed or cornered by somebody else’s opinion. My husband has always offered the support, even when I’ve been impossible:
“Is the language in this chapter hard to understand?” I’d ask him.
“Yes, I think it might be. I don’t really know what it means.”
And I’d be frustrated and impatient, because I didn’t want to write it again.
“Why not, Scott? Why don’t you understand? Why can’t you just try a bit more?”
It could have gone badly. He could have said “Because I don’t want to read anything so mindlessly academic in the first place. I’d much rather go to sleep. Why don’t you take it to the writing school? They know how to help?”
But he didn’t. He said “I get frustrated too when I work hard and it still doesn’t feel right.”
And his empathy made all the difference.
Those people who are there for you when life is good, and when it is bad, the ones who stand by your side when you are in the arena, and when you have dust in your eyes, the colors blur, and you don’t really know what you are doing and where to turn, are the people who mean everything. They are the people you can trust, and the ones who make the critics in the grandstands seem less relevant. They are the people who keep you going, who make you willing to try, keep trying, and give the best you have. I am grateful for the people in my life who are always there. They mean more than I could possibly admit.
Maybe, when the critics come out and jeer at us, and we have sand in our eyes, connectedness, empathy and respect for our deeper humanity is what really matters. And the people who give that to us are the ones who help us get through.