Today is March 29 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you in the arena?” On April 23, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt gave what would become one of the most widely quoted speeches of his career.
After leaving office the previous year to spend a year hunting in Central Africa and then touring Northern Africa and Europe, the former President attended events and gave speeches throughout 1910 in places like Cairo, Berlin, Naples, and Oxford.
He stopped at the Sorbonne in Paris on April 23 and delivered a speech called “Citizenship in a Republic,” which, among some, would come to be known as “The Man in the Arena.” His speech included references to his family history, war, human and property rights, the responsibilities of citizenship, and France’s falling birthrate.
But Roosevelt also used this opportunity to proclaim two inspirational and impassioned messages. In his first proclamation he railed against cynics who looked down at men who were trying to make the world a better place when he said: “The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities—all these are marks, not ... of superiority but of weakness.”
Roosevelt’s second proclamation, however, would continue to echo to the present day over a century later. In the following passage he refers to the man in the arena and said: "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 speech was a wild success. According to Edmund Morris, author of the biography Colonel Roosevelt, —who calls it “one of Roosevelt’s greatest rhetorical triumphs”—“Citizenship in a Republic” ran in the Journal des Debats as a Sunday supplement, got sent to the teachers of France by Le Temps, was printed by Librairie Hachette on Japanese vellum, was turned into a pocket book that sold 5,000 copies in five days, and was translated across Europe. Roosevelt, Morris writes, “was surprised at its success, admitting to Henry Cabot Lodge that the reaction of the French was ‘a little difficult for me to understand.’”
Author Brené Brown discussed the impact of this speech on her life and work when she said during a 2016 presentation: “I have spent the last 12 years studying vulnerability and that quote was everything I know about vulnerability. It is not about winning; it's not about losing; it's about showing up. I want to show up and be seen in my work and in my life. If you're going to show up and be seen there is only one guarantee and that is you will get your ass kicked. That is the guarantee. That's the only certainty you have if you're going to go in the arena and spend any time in there. Also, if you're not in the arena getting your ass kicked I'm not interested in your feedback.”
Today’s reflection consists of questions related to Roosevelt’s two statements. Take a moment and think about each one to help you increase your self-awareness in order to leverage your mind, body, and spirit to Navigate the Chaos.
How often do you face life with a sneer?
How often do you have a cynical habit of thought and speech?
How often do you criticize work which you yourself has never tried?
How often are you aloof?
How often are you in the arena of life?
How often is your face marred by dust and sweat and blood?
How often do you strive valiantly?
How often do you come up short time and again?
How often do you spend yourself in a worthy cause?
How often do you know both the triumph of high achievement and the thrill of failing while daring greatly?
How often are you getting your ass kicked because you are dared to enter the arena of life?
How often are you taking life advice from those outside of the arena? If you are doing this, how has that served you?
Would you rather take life advice from someone in the arena or someone who has never been in there?