We’re Human and We Fail

This is not a political post. This is about humanity, imperfection, and failure. Living outside of Philadelphia, the epicenter of politics this week, it’s almost impossible to ignore the clamor of the convention. Furthermore, even if you are living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the demise of the DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, regarding leaked emails during the primary election season. Fast forward to her inevitable resignation and “failure.”

This was arguably, the largest “arena” of Wasserman Schultz’s life. In The Daring WayTM, Brené Brown uses the arena as a metaphor for showing up, being seen, and living brave in our lives, which stems from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” quote.

“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.”

For all intents and purposes, Wasserman Schultz failed. She fell “flat on her face” in the arena, as Brené Brown would say. Again, this is not a political post—I’m not interested in blogging/reflecting on whether she was right or wrong, the political angles, punditry, etc.

I’m interested in how it would feel if you were in her shoes--if you failed on a grand scale, with the majority of the world watching. Can you imagine the feelings she must be having, the thoughts that must be running through her head? What would you do? What would you say? Where would you go? This isn’t a place to judge how virtuous her actions were or were not, how right or wrong she was, etc. Most of us have made mistakes, most of us have exercised poor judgment, and most of us have had actions that we wish we could revisit and do over.

In Brené Brown’s work, this is exactly what The Rising StrongTM process was built for. It provides a 3 step process for coming back, or Rising Strong from failure. When you’re face down in the arena, whether it’s the Wells Fargo Center at the 2016 DNC, a small arena of a conversation in your relationship, a job interview, a marriage proposal, a conflict with a friend, it is immensely helpful to have a roadmap for how to pick yourself up and keep going.

The Reckoning

The Reckoning is a time to get curious. Curious about what happened, what we’re feeling, wait… Stop. What. We. Are. Feeling. Identifying emotion is a ginormous (as my son would say) task, and one that cannot be skipped. If we cannot identify what we’re feeling, that we’re not able to rumble with the emotion. Brené Brown explains that term “reckoning” comes from reckon, and is an old navigational term related to finding one’s direction. In addition to getting curious, we need to be able to recognize when we are entangled in this emotion.

The Rumble

The rumble is a time to get up close and personal with our thoughts and feelings. When we’ve identified the feelings that have arisen from the fall in the arena, we need to start examining “the story we’re making up” about what happened. The rumble is a time to sort through what’s true, what additional information we need to know, and how to understand the story we’re making up about what happened to gain control of how it will end.

The Revolution

The revolution is about using the insights from the Rumble to start living differently. To be accountable to oneself and to others, to embrace one’s authenticity by owning the story.

What could it look like if Wasserman Schultz did this? It could be an interview where she takes responsibility for missteps and owns her own fallibility. It could be an op-ed piece in the New York Times or Washington Post. It could be her next speech in her home state. What’s important is that it fits her.

For example, after the Buffalo Bills lost Superbowl XXV due to Scott Norwood’s wide right field goal kick in the closing seconds of the game, the silence was most likely deafening. Losing the Superbowl and being the face of the loss is not an aspirational place. However, he returned to Buffalo to what would have been the victory parade, and walked up to the podium. In today’s world, we would expect boos, criticism, and insults. The people in Buffalo that January of 1987 applauded him and celebrated him despite the seemingly epic failure. That is accountability. That is owning the story and Rising Strong anyway.

It remains to be seen what Debbie Wasserman Schultz will do. Can she recover? Politicians have recovered from scandals; the dust will settle. I hope that from a humanistic perspective that she has the support around her to reckon and rumble with her emotions around the circumstances so that she can deal with the issues at hand and come out of it with her own revolution.