Quote of the Day: Theodore Roosevelt

On this date in 1910, former President Theodore Roosevelt made his famous “Man in the Arena” speech, one of the most inspiring calls to courage and personal character ever spoken. Its most quoted passage is this:

“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.

It’s an important quote, and not only because it carries the essence of a great man and leader. Teddy’s words should be revisited regularly by all those, including me, who stand on the sidelines passing judgment on the words and deeds of men and women who devote themselves to public service and elected office. It is not that we should not hold them to high standards and subject them to just criticism, for we should. We must always remember, however, that they have had the courage to undertake great responsibility and personal risk to accomplish what they believe is right, and though they may be misguided, mistaken, flawed or unsuccessful, they deserve our respect for that.

[Many thanks to my friend, Tom Vesper, a great trial lawyer and legal ethics specialist, for reminding me of the date and the speech.]

5 thoughts on “Quote of the Day: Theodore Roosevelt

  1. Hi Jack
    Thanks for this posting. The daily feeding of ethical values in your column is a reminder to all of us to sweat it out at the arena that I do not consider it as coming from a person standing on the sidelines but like a chaplain accompanying the soldiers in the combat zone.

  2. I’ve always liked this idea of Teddy’s. He liked it too, a lot. The YALE BOOK OF QUOTATIONS lists three other very similar versions that he used before the Sorbonne speech on April 23, 1910, and there is little doubt that he trotted it out often when asked for impromptu remarks. Clearly, he extended his respect to the man “who errs, and comes short again and again,” but there iss nothing wrong with “again and again” even when you get it right.

  3. “Roosevelt’s resolve weakened when he was advised on 1 June that Perdicaris was not a US citizen, that in fact he had forfeited his American passport for a Greek one forty years earlier; but Roosevelt reasoned that, ince Raisuli thought Perdicaris was an American citizen, it made little difference.”

    From the Wikipedia entry on the Perdicaris Incident”

    What is your ethical analysis of Teddy Roosevelt’s reasoning: “since Raisuli thought Perdicaris was an American citizen, it made little difference.”

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