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.
Teddy Roosevelt, from here
In many ways, Theodore Roosevelt was a man of another time. To him, war was a glorious and noble adventure, to be waged for the defense of the United States or the expansion of its empire. A man was not a man unless he could go off into the wilderness and survive for a week or a month. And a fight was the ultimate test of one man against another.
But he was also a man of timeless principles, illustrated beautifully by the quote above. I can’t blog on courage and not include it.
Like Sunday’s quote from J. K. Rowling, this one does not mention courage explicitly. But his message is clear: it takes courage to be the man in the arena. To be the critic pointing out his flaws and mistakes, not so much.
We make a sport in this country of building up heroes, then tearing them down. We find people we admire, make idols of them, and build them up into heroes. Somewhere along that process, we forget they are as human as we are, so the minute they make a mistake, we start dismantling the pedestal we built for them to stand on, and throwing rocks to try to knock them off. We do the same with our historical heroes: whatever great things a man or woman accomplished in his or her life, his or her legacy can be undone by a revelation of the kind of mistake a human might make–or worse, behavior that was entirely appropriate for their time, but questionable to us today.
Sometimes a mistake reveals a character trait that shows us a former hero is not really worthy of our admiration. More often, though, it just gives us an excuse to pull down someone we are envious of. Let’s remember, the next time we feel tempted to take a jackhammer to someone’s pedestal, to ask ourselves: are we the man in the arena, or are we the critic?