Thursday, May 26, 2016

Post No. 200: Next to the arena

Theodore Roosevelt is making the rounds lately, which is good to see: As a multifaceted man who recognized the complexities of policy and policy making, and who looked for opportunities to use governmental power to advance the public interest, he offers a lot by way of example to today's political scene.

In particular I've been seeing a lot of this quote, which originates in the time between his presidency and his 1912 bid to return to the office:
This poster is on the wall of the Vault, a co-working space where I'm spending the summer. It's meant to inspire the entrepreneurs and techies who are hoping to use the resources in the Vault to launch their businesses.

I am inspired to take time to salute those in the arena, whether their arena be business, society or politics. As I've been thinking about the poster and this milestone post, I see examples all around me of people who are putting themselves forward in positive ways.

There's Eric Engelmann, the visionary CEO of Geonetric who houses and nurtures the Vault:

The teachers and staff at Garfield School, where I volunteer, whose dedication to their students taxes their minds and their bodies:
Preservationists like Beth and Tom DeBoom, who put time and energy into saving buildings like Cedar Rapids's historic White Elephant shop (here, in its new location waiting to be renovated):

The staff of Foundation 2, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention task force who today celebrate the opening of their new youth shelter:

The men and women through the years who have served in our nation's military:
And, of course, in this political season, we should remember the candidates and government employees. Drew Curtis, who runs, spoke at Geonetric last week...
...offering lessons from his career as an entrepreneur, but also recounting his 2015 independent candidacy for governor or Kentucky. He got 5 percent of the vote, but his conversations with the eventual winner--Republican Matt Bevin--led to some policy changes, particularly on felon voting rights. "So I improved the lives of about 100,000 people," he noted. He thinks you should run for office, too.
So hurrah for people who take action, who are, as TR said, "in the arena." As I pile up posts on this blog, though, I think he undervalues critics.
As President, Roosevelt no doubt dealt with a lot of critics, and that was an era before radio talk shows, television pundits, and social media sites mocking Barack Obama's Dead Fly. It's not hard to imagine that he often lost patience with their sniping. We've all heard those people who have nothing good to say about anything: businesses are just out to gouge you, the government is incompetent and corrupt, people who complain about disadvantages should just shut up and shape up, the home team is just going to choke in the end. Such people are mentally lazy and certainly tiresome, whether you're the one actually doing things or just have to listen to them.
This blog, and pretty much my whole career, are predicated on the idea that critical analysis can and should have social value. We can explain different groups to each other, hold those in the arena to standards, and remind those who are up to their necks in alligators what their purpose was in entering the swamp in the first place. I write Holy Mountain to explore issues of our contemporary common life, on the principle that the exigencies of the near future--environmental and energy needs, economic opportunity, and the realities of a diverse population--are going to force us into more contact with a greater variety of people than we're used to having. Someone's going to have to do something about all of these exigencies, and thankfully there are numerous someones already at it, but there is also value in articulating, explaining and critiquing. To the extent possible I stay away from personalities and scandals... that pointless way lies madness.
If critical analysis is your calling, as I believe it is mine, go to it. Do it with integrity, constructive intent, and admiration for those people--and remember, first and foremost, they are people--who are bold to enter the arena.
This is the 200th post on Holy Mountain. Here are the most viewed posts among the first 199:
  1. "Am I Blue," 14 June 2013 [was #1 after 100, and still far in the lead, thanks mostly to Russian robots]
  2. "Turn Red for What?" 5 November 2014
And in the interest of balance, here are the least viewed posts, mostly featuring celebrations of community life in Cedar Rapids:
  1. "Halloween 2013," 1 November 2013 [was #5 after 100]
  2. "A Holiday Tradition," 24 November 2013 [was #1 after 100]
  3. "Nothing Says Community Like...," 13 January 2014 [was #3 after 100]
  4. "MPO Ride 2016," 15 May 2016
  5. "A Preservation Protest," 8 May 2014

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