I have a friend who, let’s say, enjoys extravagance. He prefers style over substance. I’m not saying that in a negative way – that’s just how he does things.
He regularly goes to Vegas – probably averaging out 2-3 visits per year where he visits friends, goes to pool parties and indulges in a little gambling. Let’s call him Vegas Pete.
So Vegas Pete invites Bo Ideal to one of London’s finest casinos and Bo agrees to go. But…confession time: I am a terrible gambler. Recreational at best. I don’t have the time nor inclination to learn all the tricks and tactics and so for me, the old saying is true: The house always wins.
I am what they would call an ‘investor’ in Vegas.
To offset this disability, Vegas Pete offers to play for both of us at the casino and we each pony up half the stake money for chips. He’s a little rash and impulsive, but generally knows the textbook decisions to make in most scenarios. So I agree and we head to the blackjack table.
To cut a long story short – after a roller-coaster start, Vegas Pete eventually starts bleeding chips steadily. I observe all this standing behind him while he is in his element.
And while I’m standing there drinking my beer, I look around me at all the people absorbed in their activities at each of the tables. And I have an epiphany:
Men don’t watch. Men do
It hit me suddenly. the words silently passed my lips and left a taste in my mouth. While Vegas Pete was in the throes of gambling death at the table, I was going through my own private hell, standing like a mannequin behind him – and this feeling of chosen passiveness hurt just as much as the new hole in my bank balance.
We soon lost all our money. Shit listen to me! “We…”. It wasn’t ‘we’ – it was Vegas Pete. He was the one who was playing. I just sat back like an anaesthetized patient waiting for the surgical removal of his balls to begin.
Yes, he lost. But at least he played. Ok, I had some financial skin in the game – but let’s put it another way – how is this situation any different to placing a bet on your favourite sports team?
Why did this feel wrong? When I instinctively feel something is not quite right, I think about what true men of Iron Qualities would do. Would they have given their friend money, depending on his skill and luck while they sat back and watched the scene unfold? Would they have actively chosen to put their fate in the hands of another when they were equally capable of taking action themselves?
I mean think about it. Why go to a casino to just stand there watching someone else gamble??
So while Vegas Pete was mentally recovering from the hammering the house just gave him, I was sucking on my beer trying to put my feelings into words. I couldn’t quite do it just then but some time later I came across a quote from Teddy Roosevelt that summed it all up perfectly. And who better than the daddy of the Iron Qualities to distil this feeling. In 1910, during a speech in Paris, he said this:
“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.”
The actions of Vegas Pete lost me my money, but could I be angry or upset with him? No way. He was man enough to step into the arena and take the hits. He failed this time, but I have seen him win before and I am sure I will see him win again.
Get out of the stands and into the arena
Those ‘cold and timid souls’ who choose not to compete in life’s big arena have a sickness – and it’s the same one that came over me that evening: SPECTATORITIS.
SPECTATORITIS (n): “Excessive indulgence in forms of amusement in which one is a passive spectator rather than an active participant”
It is so easy to be a spectator of life in the modern world. To watch rather than do. To be passive. To live vicariously. To be dependent on others for results. The numbers of ‘men in the arena’ are becoming fewer and fewer.
Rather than being creative, active or productive, the modern man gorges on pre-packaged pieces of passive amusement – box sets; back-to-back football matches live on TV; gigs; social media; and the list goes on.
Online dating – a symptom of spectatoritis
Think about online dating. It has its benefits but essentially, it involves you lying on your sofa with your face glued to your smartphone screen while the world is happening outside. Browsing a library of honeys and maybe even typing “hey what’s up?” now and again isn’t the same as physically walking up to a girl, saying “hey girl” and taking a shot.
Ok – she might shoot you down…maybe even completely blank you or laugh in your face. Or she might smile and say ‘hi’ back. A man armed with the Iron Qualities should be fine either way.
Point is, you could waste your life endlessly browsing online dating profiles and getting nowhere. You might even read one of these “create the perfect online dating profile” or “10 opening messages guaranteed to get a response” articles and still get nowhere. There is still something to be said for face to face communication.
There is a cure….
In this pre-packaged world, most things have been made convenient for us. As a result, you might find yourself with free time that our ancestors might net necessarily have had. It’s easy to be lazy and passive and end up catching a bad dose of spectatoritis rather than spending this time to hone and explore the skills required for a life of the Iron Qualities.
Be active. Be assertive. Be self-reliant. Be multi-faceted. Just…be. And DO!
I chose to put my faith in Vegas Pete and live that casino experience vicariously through him maybe because I wasn’t confident in my blackjack skills. But you know what – we need to step out of our comfort zones TO GROW. It can be uncomfortable and scary to try something, but you have to try.
The world is the arena that Roosevelt talks about. So go out there and get your face covered in dust, sweat and blood rather than reading an article on your smartphone about someone else doing it or watching a documentary about it on Netflix.
Don’t be the pale skinny kid who wastes his childhood sitting indoors playing Mario Kart and watching anime. Be the kid who climbs trees, plays football with his mates and teases girls – the kid who comes home with grass stains on his jeans and dirt all over his face.
Now, I need to go outside and take my medicine for this horrible disease….