“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.” (Theodore Roosevelt)

TGM HollyBrenѐ Brown uses this quote a lot in her talks about the power of vulnerability (if you’ve never heard her talk – do look up her TED talks on YouTube see links below). Her research has shown that vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, empathy, trust and love. It occurred to me that all these aspects of humanity are also essential parts of the Forest School ethos. So this got me thinking – is the aim of Forest School to get people to be vulnerable? Or as Roosevelt might have put it – is it our job to get people to enter the arena? To show up and be? To fight, not worrying about winning or losing, but just being there? The more I’ve thought about this, the more I think so. The work we do, hinges on creating a sense of security, to develop trusting relationships and to encourage authentic expression. All of this is rooted in vulnerability.

So how do we get the people we work with into the arena? …. The only answer I can think of is to lead by example.

We have to already be in the arena AND taken a good few rounds … marred with dust and sweat and blood… in fact maybe our job as facilitators is to not only fight our own fight but to also help absorb some of the punches directed at our learners whilst they’re getting to grips with things?. We have to embrace our own vulnerability and recognise it as courage. We have to show up as an imperfect, unique being that get beaten again and again, but each time picks ourself up and brushes ourself down before launching into the mêlée again.

Brenѐ also says that the only feedback we should be taking notice of is that from others in the arena. We shouldn’t be worrying about what the critics in the cheap seats think, for as Roosevelt says ‘those cold and timid souls know not victory nor defeat’. So how could their feedback be valid or even useful. To me this reinforces the case that the only hope we have of connecting with our learners is to be in the arena alongside them, blow by blow – we cannot cheer them on from the safety of the sidelines. Not if we want to create a trusting, authentic relationship where feedback is valued.

So to those of you already dusty, sweaty and bloody – the credit is yours, just keep going! And to those of you on the sidelines, and particularly those of you at the back – the time has come to step into the arena. I dare you, greatly.

Links to Brenѐ Browns TED talks:

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