One hundred and nine years ago today, barely one year removed from his second term as President of the United States and less than a decade before his untimely death from a blood clot at age 60, Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech to a crowd of thousands at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. The title of the hour-long speech was “Citizenship in a Republic,” but it’s a brief segment of that talk that is still remembered today. For a man who put across more than his fair share of memorable speeches, the short segment now referred to as “The Man in the Arena” may be Teddy’s best-remembered words.
“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, and 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 the 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 know neither victory nor defeat.”
These words struck a major chord with me the first time I read them, and that chord continues to reverberate throughout my life. It’s the only speech I’ve ever ordered a framed copy of, and I fight the temptation to allude to it in everything I write. But on the anniversary of the originating speech I thought it fitting to honor the man and his words.
Thank you, Teddy. Thank you for being a man who lived the strenuous life, a man unafraid to be marred with dust and sweat and blood, a man unafraid to stumble, a man who dared greatly, and for being a man who boldly marched into every arena you sought to conquer.