In 1910, not long after he left the Oval Office, Teddy Roosevelt gave one of the most influential speeches in history at Sorbonne University in Paris titled Citizenship in a Republic. Within this speech lies an extremely influential passage referred to as The Man In The Arena:
“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.”
Referenced by world leaders, celebrities, and scholars, this passage has inspired many by explaining where the true value of a civilization lies. It tells that there are many who sit and watch from the sidelines, complaining about everything that’s going on, without adding any real value. Value lies with the courageous, the creative, and the tenacious, those who are out there trying to make a difference, whether it be in their own lives and in the world around them.
In our more cynical world, where everything seems to be going wrong and it feels like there’s nothing that can be done about it, falling into the latter can be an easy thing to do. However, even if it feels hopeless, there is a lot of good that can come from pushing through that feeling and becoming like the man in the arena. Read on learn what, why, and how:
To Sit on the Sidelines or to be The Man In The Arena?
When discussing those who sit on the sidelines, Roosevelt described those who are complacent and those who recognize that they’re in a bad situation but are not willing to do anything about it. They lack the drive to push themselves, to go out there and do something about their bad situation.
Rather, they will just complain and try to bring others down to their level so that they can feel better about themselves. Most of the time, this comes from a fear of failure and the belief that no matter what they do, they’ll never make things better. So in their minds, why bother, why should others bother? While not everyone in this category is a jerk putting others down, in fact many aren’t, they are still stuck in a cycle and are ultimately unhappy.
Those who are in the arena, on the other hand, are the ones who recognize that they’re in a bad situation and strive to do something about it. They know that it will be difficult and that they will fail, sometimes they will fail constantly. But the main difference is that, even if they’re afraid to fail and are afraid of hardship, they’ve come to accept it as part of their journey, and they’ll keep moving forward. They fight for what they want, whether it be to improve their lives, to fulfill their dreams, or to make the world a better place. Those who are content with their lives can also fall under this category, as they have often gotten what they’ve wanted or at least enough to where they can be happy, things they’ve fought for and earned.
The most important thing to understand is that this is not about social standing or class, rather it’s about mindset. Those who are rich and powerful can still be like those critics, satisfied with the little work they’ve and trying to prevent others from reaching similar heights. The worst of these can become bullies, and in extreme cases tyrants, who always get their way at the cost of others.
Moreover, those who are struggling financially or fighting with depression and their mental health can be one of the most difficult fights a person can face. But even if it may not seem like much, they are still fighting, which is what matters most. They may also be in a position where they cannot fight like others, who are still making an effort to learn and be better or if they’re experienced, to teach others and give constructive criticism. What matters most is that they are still bringing something valuable and are working to make things better for themselves and those around them.
Why and How to Become The Man in The Arena
While the answer may seem obvious, for many that fight may seem pointless. Why should I try, nothing is going to get better, they think. It is not unfair to say the odds are stacked against them, but those who don’t fight, while they will never fail, they will also never win. They will still face the same hardships, but they will not be able to push past them unless they have the drive to keep moving forward. The ones who go into the arena and fight for a better life are the ones who make a difference, even if what they do seems small.
While steps needed to fight for what you want in life can be a difficult, complex journey, adopting this way of thinking gets you through it. It means pushing yourself beyond what you’re currently comfortable doing and forces you to re-examine the way your life is going. It means pushing past your discouraging thoughts trying to convince you that what you are doing won’t amount to anything. It means understanding that failure is part of life and that learning from your mistakes will help you grow. Finally, being the one in the arena means no matter what happens, you keep moving forward, because you have the power to make a difference even if it seems hopeless.