On April 23rd, 1910 ex-president Theodore Roosevelt delivered a speech that continues to impact people to this day. He spoke at the Sorbonne in the Grand Amphitheater at the University of Paris. He had traveled to Paris with his son Kermit to give his Citizenship in Republic speech.
“Roosevelt firmly believed that one learned by doing. It is better to stumble than to do nothing or to sit by and criticize those that are “in the arena” he explained. “The poorest way to face life is with a sneer.” It is a sign of weakness. “To judge a man merely by success,” he said, “is an abhorrent wrong.””
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 comes a point in your life where you will be called to step out. When you step out and begin to put yourself out there, I can assure you, there will always be critics. There will always be someone who either doesn’t agree with you, would have done it differently, or just gets offended by something you did (or didn’t) say. Being in ministry the past 17 years, you hear it said often, “If you don’t have thick skin, maybe being in ministry is not for you.” (Sad, I know, but true).
It’s easy to criticize. It’s easy to point fingers from the other side of this computer screen or while sitting from the pew. It’s easy to sit around with your girlfriends and point out everything that’s wrong with the church or that particular ministry or how the speaker was boring or if you were the speaker you would have done this or that. Oh my goodness, we could point these things out in our sleep.
But the true hero is the man in the arena. The true hero is the one who decides to step out when he or she knows that by stepping out that they are putting themselves out there with the possibility of failing (in front of everyone). The one that is brave and decides to step into the arena is the hero of this story. And by this bravery you are unconsciously giving others permission to step out too. I will be the first to tell you, I don’t like confrontation and it’s hard being in front of everyone, risking transparency by not having it all together. But it’s worth it. And over the years I’ve learned to shake it off and silence the critics.
Roosevelt said that we should never judge each other by our success alone. If you have failed, I say to you today, “well done! Bravo!” That means that you’ve actually got off your butt and tried something and that my friends deserves to be applauded. It’s easy to NOT fail or stumble when you’re NOT doing anything! In my writer’s group in Colorado we would have a time at the beginning where we would share if we got a rejection letter and everyone would clap. This might seem strange to you, “Clap for a rejection letter?” But what this showed the rest of the group was that at least these people getting rejection letters were putting their stuff out there. They stepped out and tried to get their work published. They did something! (Thick skin doesn’t hurt in the publishing world either).
So today I ask you- are you the critic or are you the man in the arena? And if you are the man in the arena, may you spend yourself on a worthy cause, may your triumphs be sweet and failures hard earned. That we ourselves wouldn’t be one of those cold and timid souls that neither knows victory nor defeat. Be the hero of your story and not the critic of others. If you find yourself in circles with critics, kindly excuse yourself and run. Or better yet, stay and defend the man in the arena. If there’s something I’ve learned over the years, it’s that it always seems easier to point out everything when I’m not the one doing anything.
Today I will choose to be the man in the arena and celebrate my victories and learn from my failures. May we all do something… anything.
In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.