I recently made the mistake of commenting on a post on social media. Two words in that sentence are critical. A “mistake” is an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong. Something is “social” when it relates to society or its organization. I have decided that engaging someone online that you disagree with is always misguided and therefore a mistake. I also think that “social media”, while relating to society, actually works to oppose healthy community (organization).
Then I read an article in Character Core Magazine that quoted President Theodore Roosevelt from a speech he gave in April of 1910. In his address, 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.”
That summed up for me what I find so distasteful about most social media. It is the venue of the critic, not the arena of the one who strives. After I made my recent mistake, I quickly was reminded that I impacted no one and changed nothing. The people who already held my view applauded, and the people who were opposed rushed to eviscerate me.
Please don’t email me and tell me you only use Facebook to keep up with your grandkids or your church friends. I get that there are some positive uses for social media platforms. The good uses all have one thing in common: they are extending already existing social relationships. Where people are already “in the arena” of relationship and striving to do the hard work of human connection, this extension can be positive if used sparingly.
I’ve never met any of the people in the message thread I responded to. I have no connection and therefore no basis for them to hear things from me they would rather not hear. Without relationship, communication becomes one-way, me telling them things and them telling me things, but no one really listening or trying to understand.
Social media may be the reductio ad absurdum for this concept, but relationship is the foundation for all healthy human interaction. Without a connection to another person, we have little motivation to compel us to give grace, help, or understanding. Relationship is the bungee cord that keeps us close enough so the condition of the other person matters.
Great leaders foster a community that is rich with human connection and support for the inevitable friction that can occur. True social interaction is the soil in which relationship and connection grows. During COVID, we learned that video calls are not the same as face-to-face interactions. We desperately missed gathering for meetings, meals, and even entertainment. An MIT study, conducted mostly on college-age volunteers in 2018 and 2019—before the pandemic—found that 10 hours without any social contact, for many people, led to a kind of psychological and physical craving that’s on the same level of intensity as 10 waking hours without food.
This need becomes more pronounced when we are in conflict. Without connection and contact we tend to devalue the other party and are more likely to say and do things we would never do in person. We become the critic when we are not in the relational arena.
We give a different part of ourselves to people we know and care about than we do to people we have no connection with. If we gave everything to everybody, we would be spread too thin to make a difference to those we care about, so we naturally conserve our best energy for those people where we have a connection.
I’m not telling you to stay off social media (though I will be), but I am suggesting that you conserve your advice and opinions for those you care about and are connected to. I’m also suggesting that our best life is found when we are in the arena with our family and friends and teammates. Will we fail? Of course. But failing isn’t the worst thing; not striving and not daring greatly are far worse. Avoiding connection from behind a keyboard or any other barrier may seem safe. I would rather my face be marred by dust and sweat and blood and, in the end, know the triumph of relationship. I do not want to be a cold and timid soul. I want to be the man in the arena. That is living my best life, and that is The Kimray Way.