Today, I want to share a speech that has had meaning to me for many years. This short speech was delivered in Paris on April 23rd, 1910 by then former president Theodore Roosevelt.
The speech was actually titled, Citizenship in a Republic, but later became known 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.
There’s much to consider here, but as a man, a father, and teacher, these are words I want to pass down to my children and students to hear, to know, and to understand.
In my life experiences to date, there have always been critics. Always. Critics like to sit on the sideline and say things like, “I like it, but…” Or, “It’s really good, but have you thought about…” Or, the worst, “If I may play devil’s advocate for a moment…”
Throughout my life I have, for the most part, always given my best effort. I don’t do shoddy work and I strive for excellence in the work that my hands touch. I don’t take criticism well because those who would criticize me have not put in the time, energy, and effort that I have in order to examine my work, think about it day and night from several different perspectives, and to foresee the work into the future.
Critics consider another’s work for a few mindless seconds and dismiss it, with little consideration to the thought that went into the work on behalf of the originator.
What Roosevelt is expressing above is that the uninformed critical person does not count. They have not invested time in the arena. Their opinion is meaningless.
To those giving life their best, those who are in the arena fighting and participating, swinging left and right and feeling the thumps landed by various opponents, I can only say, Bravo! Stay at it, stay the course, keep on fighting.
It is not the critic who counts; it is the men and women in the arena. As we parent and teach, as we engage our students, as we work, and as we interact with others, strive to be present in the arena. We know that we will sometimes fail and fall, but we also know that we are actually in the arena fighting the good fight. There is honor in this.
Always be in the arena. Don’t be a cold and timid soul who knows neither victory nor defeat. Should you fail, begin again. Fall down seven times, get up eight.