Originally posted on Facebook–February, 2013
“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.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt (U.S. President, 1901-1909)
Whenever I have read anything about Theodore Roosevelt, an adjective that arises constantly is “vigorous.” He was a man that believed in passionate action. The quote with which I began this note is likely his most well-known quote, regularly referred to as “The Man in the Arena.” It was part of a larger speech, known as “Citizenship in a Republic,” given at the University of Paris on April 23rd, 1910. The major premise being expounded upon by President Roosevelt during this speech was that a measure of a country should not be its citizens’ visible successes, but rather the overall quality of its people. “To judge a man merely by success,” Roosevelt said, “is an abhorrent wrong.”
In defining what it is for a republic to possess a quality people, President Roosevelt said, “Self-restraint,self-mastery, common sense, the power of accepting individual responsibility and yet of acting in conjunction with others, courage and resolution—these are the qualities which mark a masterful people.”
The Citizen in a Republic, in my opinion, is probably one of the best works of historical oratory I have ever read—it would have been a blessing to have heard it at the Sorbonne. I believe that Roosevelt was heart-fully expressing what he saw as the greatness of his nation at that time—the quality of its people. It is quite easy to forget that the United States—now a place of technological development, and relative comfort—began as a wilderness where many boldly ventured for the opportunity to advance their status and eventually improve their family legacy—at risk of death. Many of those first European travelers failed to survive the boat voyage across the Atlantic. Moreover, we tend to forget that many came to the New World for greater religious freedom. These early settlers, while people with many foibles (e.g. the atrocities on the Native Americans), were also people who decisively acted upon their convictions. Can we say the same now?
When I view my country, I am concerned with its direction. As a republic, we have become extremely divided and dependent on a government of self-serving leaders. What began as “public servants,” and were once regarded as positions of respect and esteem, are now positions where many question the character and quality of the people who hold them. Here is a question: Would you want to be President? More than most of us I expect do not.
The parallels between the current United States and the Roman Empire are frightening. We focus more upon entertainment than necessity. If you disagree, consider television programming. How much of our media is devoted to the celebrities and athletes, games and movies? We assume that we are entitled—and guaranteed—comfort and security, misappropriating the word “freedom.” Roman leaders began manipulating the public—what the movie Gladiator affectionately referenced as “the mob”—to maintain power. The people became dependent on the few to think for them. With how convoluted our system of government has become; how many of us actually feel informed enough to vote on issues intelligently? And, even worse, how many of us are ignorant enough to believe we can vote intelligently without being informed?
With all this being said, let’s revisit President Roosevelt’s speech—and consider how it may be even more necessary for us to heed his words than it was for those in France during that period. As a U.S. citizen and a Christian, his speech emphasizes characteristics that were once prevalent for both groups—and could arguably be lacking within both now.
First, what does it mean to be a U.S. Citizen now? At one point, character and quality were highly valued. While I’m sure people would say that is still true, I would suggest that individual performance and outcome (results) are more valued. We encourage such behavioral focus with sayings such as “nice people finish last.” And when people are “nice,” too often, I would argue that it doesn’t correlate with “good.” Here are the prevalent definitions for both for those who believe them to always be synonymous:
adjective, nic-er, nic-est.
- pleasing; agreeable; delightful: a nice visit.
- amiably pleasant; kind: They are always nice to strangers.
Good [goo d]
adjective, bet-ter, best
- morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious: a good man.
- satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree: a good teacher; good health
- right; proper; fit: It is good that you are here. His credentials are good.
As one can see from these definitions, it is possible to be “nice” but not “good.” If anything, given the over-emphasis of political-correctness, it is extremely difficult to be “nice” AND “good.” Society has become extremely sensitive to disagreement, because we attribute “hurtfulness” and “maliciousness” toward any comment that is in conflict with our own personal opinions. My personal belief is that the morally compromising saw how easy it was to dissuade worthwhile conversation through attacking difficult topics on the basis of political correctness, and others followed suit. Few people prefer confrontation, but for us as a society to try and subvert healthy confrontation on difficult topics is far from “good.” Frankly, I find it “bad,” and using a stronger word, “evil.”
In 1891 and 1894, using words similar to those found in “The Man in the Arena,” Theodore Roosevelt cautioned about talking without doing—and to make decisions without personal consequence:
“…the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic—the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done.” (1891)
“Criticism is necessary and useful; it is often indispensable; but it can never take the place of action, or be even a poor substitute for it. The function of the mere critic is of very subordinate usefulness. It is the doer of deeds who actually counts in the battle for life, and not the man who looks on and says how the fight ought to be fought, without himself sharing the stress and the danger.” (1894)
Yet, when examining those running the United States currently…of the laws THEY PASS, how many apply to them? If our leaders truly believe that Obamacare (which, honestly is the same thing as Romney-care in MA) is a positive direction for our country, why have they excluded themselves from it? Why are the politicians untethered to the policies that they design for the rest of the nation? As a citizen, should I not be concerned? Shouldn’t my elected leaders be “public servants,” and not a false aristocracy?
One may ask how this can happen, since we vote these people into power, right? I would assert that our once great nation (and yes, I say “once” with grief, not pleasure) is no longer great, because the citizens—myself included—failed to steward the responsibility their voting privilege truly demands. We conveniently listen to the media, rather than actively seeking out objective information. We are persuaded (or manipulated) to believe what we first hear from the media, or that which a majority of our friends state to be the truth. I would argue that most spend more time worrying about who to start on their fantasy football team, than they do about what our government is going to do about the debt crisis. How terrifying is that?!?
Additionally, while this may come as an attack on some, and in some ways can be an accusation, the actions of many people demonstrate a self-centeredness and greed that leads them to vote for short-term benefits instead of long-term wisdom. People like getting that “tax refund,” regardless if it promotes greater economic collapse in the long-run. People assume we can still hand money out as if we have a surplus, giving aid to other countries AND to those unwilling to work. Why would we not only provide support for production? People are not guaranteed equality in my opinion when it comes to quality of life. In a well-run republic, we possess the freedom to EARN an equal quality of life. So why are so many of these “occupy” people sitting on their duffs, doing very little, and expecting a hand out? If the government is providing financial supplements to people, why not require actual production in some form from them?
As a Christian, I believe that we “reap what we sow” (Galatians 6:7-8). While this should first be attributed to spiritual reaping, the example is intended to support what would have been considered a “truth” for that time. You get what you earn. Once, this country followed this rationale. But we have moved far from it. We have become a people “dependent” on “entitlement,” and always wanting “more” for “nothing.” There are soooo many examples of this, I do not believe it necessary to raid You Tube and share videos of what we watch and what we say to support it in this note. In short we have become followers of bad leaders. Our leaders are not invested in us. They do not “struggle” with us…nor do we truly hold them accountable. So who is more at fault? Those who have led us astray, or those who have blindly followed?
Now, there may be some Christians who have read this far into my note saying, “Aren’t we supposed to trust those whom God places in authority” (Romans 13-17)? My answer is “no.” We are expected to exhibit civil obedience and respect. This means that Christians need to be obedient to the law, and submissive to the consequences when we adhere to the ultimate authority (Christ), when these are morally conflicting. However, as U.S. citizens, Christians can and should vote based on convictions. They should speak (respectfully –not necessarily PC) against that which contradicts their convictions. The law and authority of the country (Constitution) allows it. So while I shouldn’t go around calling leaders “fools,” I have every right to question the morality of their decisions based on the merit of the action.
Now…reflecting on Roosevelt’s words as an American Christian more directly…I would say we have generally fallen into the same trap as those who have blindly followed government leaders. We have become followers of one another, and not of Christ. We are blindly following poor leaders—other Christians. In other words, we are following other followers.
Please do not misinterpret what I am saying. This is not saying that we shouldn’t “encourage one another to love and good deeds (Hebrew 10:24-25),” or that we should not “make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20),” or that we cannot reflect God in our good work (Matthew 5:16). It does say that we should be careful not to compare ourselves with other Christians, and base our deeds and good works on what is deemed appropriate by the Christian culture in which we live. We must remember that there have been Christian cultures that promoted the crusades, racism, etc. Our model must always be Christ. We must not conform to the world (Romans 12:2), including any Christian “culture” not from Christ, but put Christ first and follow His lead (Luke 9:23).
But again, I don’t see this happening enough…even in my own life. How do you think I came to think of writing this note in the first place! While working on my doctorate, I have been exposed to various theories of societal behavior. One theory which I believe leads to this tendency to follow other followers is Social Identity Theory. It asserts that people tend to identify with a group and become supportive of that group and its practices. In doing so, however, this necessitates an opposing—or, out group—in which one does not relate to, nor understands. Maybe this is why Christians are warned that they should expect prosecution (John15:18-21; Romans 8:16-18) and that people WILL BE offended by the Truth that you are expected to share—especially those who are closest to you (Mark 6:1-13)? We cannot please EVERYONE if we are trying to be HONEST and speak TRUTH in CONVICTION.
What appears to be happening is that we have justified our fear through the need to be PC. Consider the following scripture my fellow Christian:
16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. 20 For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you (Matthew 10:16-20).
We are repeatedly cautioned not to fear consequences of the world (Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 6:31-33), and to place your faith and trust in Him (Proverbs 3:5-6; 1 Peter 5:6-7), and to act not as a blind follower, but truly, as a “servant leader.”
While not necessarily intuitive, to be a “follower of Christ” means to be a “servant leader.” We serve, but from love, not accommodation. We don’t share what people want to be the “truth,” but the actual “truth.” In following the greatest commandment (Matthew 22:38), how can we love, if we allow others to die from lies? This is why I think so many people say “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” It is a great perspective, but only if we are actually applying it.
In our “world” of comfort, convenience, instantaneous gratification, and risk-averseness, we have all too often become followers of false idols: Money, Power, Greed, Status, Achievement, Performance, etc. That is not what Christians are called to “follow.” To a Christian, there is great risk, because we are called to love in word AND deed, and expect consequences.
Too often, regardless of whether we are solely a citizen of the world or a citizen of the Kingdom to come, we allow fear of what is to prevent us from speaking Good News of what could be (if of the world), and of what will be (if of the Kingdom of God). This is something I know I need to take to heart…and I hope that others do as well.
With that, let me close with the following scripture:
13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth (1 John 3:13-18, NASB).