TR’s ‘MAN IN THE ARENA’

TR’s ‘MAN IN THE ARENA’

One of the more inspirational presidents that have led this country was Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy (or TR, as he was often called) was a man of many talents, but mostly he was a man of action.

He was famous for his robust love of outdoor activities, including what he called “point-to-point” walks. Starting from a random point, the object of the walk was to take a direct route to the destination point regardless of the hills, rivers or haystacks that lay in the path. He was often accompanied by his sons on these outings, but just as often he was joined by an unwitting diplomat who had no advance warning of how arduous the “walk” would be when he first accepted the invitation!

Roosevelt was also a literary man, having published several books over the course of his life. Unlike the typical public figure of today, Roosevelt’s books were not ghostwritten, and they covered a wide variety of subjects, from biographies of great men to natural histories of birds.

He also wrote his own political speeches, and they tended to be long. On one occasion, he was on his way to give a speech while campaigning for president when an assassin shot him in the chest. His life was saved because the bullet was impeded by several pages’ worth of long-form notes that he had folded up and stuck inside the pocket of his jacket. What would have sent an ordinary candidate to the emergency room only inspired TR to go on with his speech, gesturing with the blood-stained notes as he held forth for 80 minutes before finally leaving for the hospital. “It takes more than that to kill a bull moose!” he declared.

One of the most famous excerpts from TR’s speeches is known as the “Man in the Arena” speech. It does a good job of summarizing his all-in approach to life, and it resonates with me: 

“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.”

This “Man in the Arena” speech has been a favorite of many people down through the years because it celebrates the ones who make the effort without excuses, disregarding all the voices of those with opinions but no initiative of their own. I think it is better to do something—even if it fails—than to sit on your hands and play it safe. Taking risks does not have to be reckless; and the rewards of high achievement really are worth the risks for me.

 

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