‘The Man in the Arena’

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21st Nov, 2023

Over the course of his time in the public eye, Theodore Roosevelt gave a number of moving, influential, highly quotable public addresses—but none of them has the legacy of the speech he delivered in Paris on April 23, 1910 – a speech called “Citizenship in a Republic,” which would come to be known as “The Man in the Arena” and would become one of the most widely quoted orations of his career.

“It’s Not the Critic Who Counts”

Roosevelt railed against cynics who looked down at men who were trying to make the world a better place. “The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer,” he said. “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.”

Then he delivered an inspirational and impassioned message that drew huge applause:

“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.”

Roosevelt might be even more surprised to learn that the most famous section of his speech still resonates and inspires, even today.

It was quoted by Nixon in his resignation speech “Sometimes I have succeeded and sometimes I have failed, but always I have taken heart from what Theodore Roosevelt once said about the Man in the Arena”

“The Man in the Arena” has a place in sports history, too: Before the 1995 World Cup, Nelson Mandela gave a copy of the passage to Francois Pienaar, captain of the South African rugby team—and they won, defeating the favoured All Blacks of New Zealand.

Washington Nationals player Mark DeRosa would read it to himself before big games and would read it aloud to his teammates. “That’s a quote I’ve always gone back to,” he told the Washington Times “I go to that a lot, I really do. I’ve done it since college. I like it because people think they know, but they have no idea what we’re thinking from pitch to pitch. With our backs against the wall, I wanted to say something that brought us together, a little band of brothers. Go out and fight. See what happens. I felt it was fitting. It fires me up when I read it and It’s a constant reminder to ignore the noise, buckle my chinstrap, and battle through whatever comes my way.”

Rohit and Team India will do well to remember and read out these lines and ignore the cynics and critics and focus on the battles ahead.

My only advice to everyone is also my favourite quote, ‘Let’s be an encourager, there are enough critics in the World already’ and stay blessed forever.