On April 23, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt gave what would become one of the most widely quoted speeches of his career. At the University of the Sorbonne in Paris, Roosevelt delivered a speech called “Citizenship in a Republic,” which would come to be known as “The Man in the Arena.” In addition to touching on his own family history, war, human and property rights, the responsibilities of citizenship, and France’s falling birth rate, 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.”
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