Sideline talkers versus arena strivers
On April 23rd, 1910, a commanding man stood at the Sorbonne in Paris, France and delivered a rousing 35-page speech, which has become immortalized for one electrifying quote within it.
As a child the man was asthmatic, nearsighted, and tutored at home because he was too sickly to attend school. As a teen, to overcome his physical weakness, he threw himself into bodybuilding and embraced what he called a “strenuous life.” Later, as a cattle rancher and war hero, he continually proved himself an embodiment of his famous quote.
You know the man and you know the quote. But do you know the full speech? It’s worth reading, pondering, and re-reading.
On November 5th, 2014, another man posted a political comment on Facebook, which revealed himself to also be an embodiment of the famous quote — but for the opposite reason.
You know the man and you may have read the comment. But do you know the lesson he learned? It’s worth learning for yourself.
The 1910 speech, entitled “Citizenship in a Republic,” was delivered by President Theodore Roosevelt.
The immortal quote continues to inspire the hearts of men today:
“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.”
The 2014 comment was made by yours truly. My comment isn’t worth repeating, but the lesson I’m learning from it is worth discussing.
I’ve learned that I have a distinct tendency toward “sideline talk,” especially when it comes to politics.
Sideline talk is the pompous belligerence of the insecure outsider, the chip-on-the-shoulder contemptuousness of the immature critic, the smart-alecky bitterness of the disenfranchised.
Sideline talk is spoken flippantly with little regard to consequence because the sideline talker’s words are, indeed, inconsequential. Sideline talk bears no weight, nor does it bear fruit; lacking the courage and conviction borne by one who battles in the arena, it is as trivial as it is lifeless.
The sideline talker boasts that he could do better than the arena striver — if he were to be put in the game. But he never ventures to put himself in the game for fear of the criticism he would receive from sideline talkers like himself.
In fact, the primary reason he stays on the sidelines of life is because of his personal and intimate familiarity with sideline criticism.
The more eager we are to criticize others, the less willing we are to dare greatly and strive valiantly. The more we withhold our criticisms, the more inclined we are to bold action.
It’s one thing to throw rocks at the arena from outside. It’s quite another to battle inside the arena.
Another quote from Roosevelt’s speech expresses it well:
“The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twisted pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt…
“A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticise 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.
“They mark the men unfit to bear their part painfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affection of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves in their own weakness.”
The arena striver, in contrast, speaks with battle-wisened calmness and battle-hardened conviction. His words are devoid of cocksure insecurity because, unlike the sideline talker, he knows from hard-earned experience what will work and what won’t, what paths are dead-ends and which is the right one to follow.
He may speak with fervent passion, but never with caustic scorn. He may be bold, but never brash. He is confident, but never prideful.
At times he may have sharp words for the establishment, but if he ever tears down it’s only with the ultimate purpose of laying a foundation upon which to rebuild. It’s the difference between the anger-driven, radical, reactionary revolutionary and the love-driven, far-sighted, proactive reformer.
It is a seeming irony that the arena striver is humbler than the sideline talker — after all, has not the striver earned the right to brag? But his humility is the natural result of banging into brick walls, careening off cliffs, falling flat on his face time and time again. He knows all too well that great achievement is far easier said than done, that pride opens blind spots and exposes Achilles’ heels.
The arena striver chooses his words wisely, carefully, and deliberately — never from impetuous emotion or foolish ignorance. He speaks not impulsively, but rather judiciously. His words are not unfounded opinions flung carelessly to the winds, but are the product of earned wisdom and are planted as a flag. His words are not biting or degrading, but rather healing and inspiring. His words carry weight and bear fruit, for people listen and are swayed.
Talk is cheap. Action is worth its weight in gold. Sideline talking, however clever, may make us feel important, but all it does is downgrade and discredit us.
Life as a sideline talker is empty and shameful. Life as an arena striver may be difficult, but it is profoundly fulfilling.
It’s okay to have strong opinions. The question is this: Are they the callow, windbag opinions of a sideline talker, or the mature, substantive views of the arena striver?