Our love affair with those who 'give it their all'
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Rev Steve Jones, rector of Littleham, Holy Trinity and Lympstone, writes for the Journal.
I don’t know if you can ever recall being at a playgroup for an end-of-term show. Nervously, on to the stage, comes a young child dressed in a handmade costume.
The child, awed by the lights and the sea of faces, stands momentarily star-struck on their acting mark, while faint whispers of off-stage direction drift out across the adoring audience.
The child opens their mouth, mumbles their lines, and performs their actions and it is, technically speaking, terrible. But amazingly the house goes wild with applause and cheering.
Why does that happen? Why are people so overjoyed with a mediocre performance? Why is it at the school sports day that your heart swells with pride when your ten-year-old comes fourth in the 100 metres dash? Why is it that you are sad, but so proud, when your seventeen-year-old comes home in tears after failing their first driving test?
Because, as human beings, we deeply admire people who will attempt to do something great. There is something profoundly stirring about witnessing another human being making themselves vulnerable in an attempt to improve their own or someone else’s life. It takes courage to put yourself out there.
It takes courage to risk failure. In 1910, in Paris, Theodore Roosevelt gave what would become one of his most famous speeches. The speech was entitled ‘Citizenship in a Republic’, but it is more commonly known as ‘The Man in the Arena.’
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In the speech, Roosevelt extols the virtue of the person who will get into the arena of trial and challenge and attempt something great, while most people stand on the sidelines and critique what others are doing. In the speech, which is located in another time and era, but which also obviously applies to females as well as males, Roosevelt says ‘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.’
When you climb up on the stage, or sit down in the examination hall, or get into the car with the driving examiner, or apply for a new job that is much scarier than anything you have done before, it takes raw courage.
It requires you to be prepared to fail to have a chance of succeeding. Courage in the attempt is such an admirable human quality. Exercising courage grows and matures us as people. In the Bible, God calls us to live lives in which we strive to always be the best version of ourselves.
St. Paul urges us to run the race of life in such a way that we try to come first. He does not mean that we strive forward, pushing others out of the way to secure our success, but that we attempt to be the very best person that we can be for ourselves and for God.
In these weeks I particularly have in mind our local teenagers and college and university students who are taking examinations and assessments to seek to secure a better future for themselves.
It may help them to know that their community is standing to honour them and applauding their heroic attempts. We wish them courage and every success in their endeavours.
I always think back to the famous poster picturing basketball star Michael Jordan putting a basketball into a hoop, with the quote underneath saying, ‘You miss 100% of the shots that you never take’. So, if you are wondering today about whether to attempt something scary, why not just give it a try and see what happens? At the very least, people around you will be inspired by your attempt.