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The Decision That Affects Everything

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

The gym was full of naturally restless middle school boys.

A life of hands-on learning had taught me well. I recognized the substantial evidence that significant learning and brain-function differences existed between boys and girls. So compelling is the data, as principal of a middle school, I trained our faculty so we could maximize learning for all students.

Of course, we educators already knew from experience (just as parents know) that, when middle school boys and girls are together, their SBQ (Silly Behavior Quotient) spikes. So in an effort to address social-emotional learning (SEL), we divided male faculty and students from female teachers and students for us all to have 45-minute meetings twice per year. We called them “Gender Meetings.” Separated, the boys and girls exhibited markedly different behaviors, becoming attentive and focused.

As usual, that day’s Gender Meetings had the same agenda for both groups: that being a participant in life has a higher premium than being a spectator in life. Our rationale was that participants make a contribution by being involved while spectators make little or no impact, never breaking a sweat and criticizing from the cheap seats. Our conviction was also clear: that those who get their fingernails dirty and make the effort, even if they fail, are to be honored and respected for participating rather than choosing the spectator’s role, watching passively from the sidelines.

That day, one of my male assistant principals and I were making the presentation. Many of the 250 7th graders laughed derisively when we attempted to illustrate the valiant effort our baseball team had made the day before, even though they had been shellacked 12-2.

We re-established quiet and calm. Then the AP, with a flair for dramatic reading, shared the excerpt from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, “Citizenship in a Republic”, now called The Man in the Arena. The words are powerful and stir the energies and ambitions of anyone, especially if they are a male:

“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.”

He finished the reading to genuine applause. Taking the microphone, I pointed out that the same baseball team who they had derided had indeed been “The Men in the Arena.” They may have been defeated, but their gallant effort in the face of adversity was worthy of both our respect and honor. In fact, their effort had been an act of bravery. And even though they were soundly beaten, at least they had the courage to get in and try while most of the boys in the gym bleachers sat and did nothing but criticize their effort.

Concluding, I told the crowd, “At least they were out on the field, in the heat and dirt, doing their best to represent us and our school! What did you do?”

There was a nanosecond of absolute silence. Then, a spontaneous, volcanic eruption.

250 tweener boys burst into a cacophony of cheers and applause for their baseball team, many on their feet in enthusiastic support and many others enthusiastically banging the bleachers with their feet. Their visceral response was heartfelt and sincere.

They understood that being a participant in life has a higher premium than being a spectator in life.

They understood that being a participant in life is an act of bravery. Being a spectator does not. Those 12- and 13-year olds understood that choosing to be one or the other is a monumental decision. They understood that the decision to be a participant or spectator becomes a life style, a life choice.

It is The Decision that affects your whole life and whatever legacy you may hope to leave.

Which have you decided to be?

Participants are necessarily humble, willing to give, explore, learn, and above all, know that their participation carries inevitable risks. These risks may end in triumph and will inevitably, at times, lead to failure. Participants wade in anyway, embracing the inherent risks, and contribute to making a difference.

Spectators are passive, play it safe, and are afraid of possible failure. From the shadows of the bleachers, spectators are unremarkable, often cowardly, and contribute little or nothing to making a difference.

If you are over the age of 12 and still haven’t made The Decision, you are by default a spectator. And make no mistake, as a spectator, you are just taking up space. You spectators are just getting in the way of us participants, slowing down they real work that we need to do for a world that sorely needs our participation.

30 years ago, an advisor gave me a sign for my desk, to serve as a constant reminder.

There are three kinds of people:

  1. Those who make things happen

  2. Those that let things happen

  3. Those who wonder what happened

Participants are, of course, #1. You still have time to make the decision that effects everything you do.

Get off the bleachers and participate!

©️Copyright by David Samore. Excerpts in part or whole may not be used without the expressed permission of David Samore.

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