The speech was given a year after his Presidency. It would be his most memorable one.
Roosevelt is widely ranked as one of the most popular US Presidents, and he’s credited with modernizing the role of the office to meet the demands of a fast-changing century.
In Paris, a crowd of over 3,000 gathered to hear him speak about Citizenship in a Republic.
He began by expressing his appreciation for the rich history of the educational institution hosting him, and the years of inspiration that it had helped impart across the world.
He then addressed the subject: the power of democratic establishments, and the importance of the individual’s role in such establishments. That would remain the theme of his message.
The address, however, isn’t remembered for his plea of citizenship. It’s remembered for a particular passage that vividly captures an essence of life that hasn’t quite been captured in the same way since. The difference between acting and reacting. In his own words:
“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.”
The World Needs More Creators
We’re all consumers in some way. We consume information, products, and art. That’s a natural and healthy part of living, and it’s not something we actively question.
A small subsection of all consumers, however, is filled with creators. This group includes entrepreneurs, artists, and even policymakers, and they’re responsible for what the rest of us so quickly and conveniently consume, whether it be good or bad.
In many ways, creators influence everything from how we think to how we behave to the things we choose to believe in. They quite literally shape the world, and though it might not always be in a positive way, the effect of their work is heavily felt. They make their mark.
There’s nothing wrong with living life entirely as a consumer. That said, if you only ever consume, you eliminate yourself from experiencing one the real joys of human existence.
There’s no better way to derive meaning in life than through creation. It doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be. Unfortunately, many of us are raised in environments in which we cease to think of ourselves as having the ability to build something. We intuitively distinguish people who create as being of a distinct breed; somehow different from us. It couldn’t be more wrong.
The only real secret to creating is doing. As Roosevelt would say, it’s a matter of getting in the arena. Nobody starts off knowing how to completely navigate it. Not even those born with abundant talent. We all stumble at the outset, but the important thing is that we do. As we gain momentum, we find our footing, and it can reveal joy far beyond expectations.
Not everyone has it in them to be Mozart or Picasso, but luckily, that’s not where the value in creating lies. It lies in simply taking an idea out of your mind and giving it a form. It doesn’t have to sell or change the world, although those things can very well be byproducts.
Write, paint, and build, even if it’s all crap. You’ll be surprised at how liberating it can be.
The Art of Productive Criticism
When Roosevelt talked about critics in his speech, he didn’t assign much value to them.
There’s truth to that for one primary reason. It’s easier to judge from the sidelines, without empathy for what, why, and how something is being done than it is to do the deed.
Critics shouldn’t stop us, but they unfortunately do. It’s particularly problematic because there are so many people in the world that might have something incredible to offer that are held back by the idea of subjecting themselves to intellectual snobbery or the unthoughtful harshness of others. Especially of those who have never themselves attempted to create.
Creating, although rewarding, is hard work. Even if we intend for an idea to come out in one form, it can sometimes be expressed entirely differently. Creating bad work is necessary in order to create great work. No amount of natural talent can bypass that hurdle, and no great creator of any kind has only ever created great work.
This is an important idea for us as consumers to absorb. Empathy goes a long way.
Of course, that isn’t to say that criticism has no value. It’s actually quite essential. It provides the feedback we need to get better, and by addressing what doesn’t or shouldn’t work, it pushes the world forward, and in the right direction.
That said, there’s an art to it. It’s about pausing to question whether or not what you have to say is productive. Does it help the person? Does it make the world any better? Does it challenge dangerous ideas, or is it just focused on shooting down a different point of view?
On that day in Paris, Roosevelt challenged the cynics and those who criticize because they simply can, and that message is especially powerful today. In a world dominated by the internet, it’s far too easy and far too convenient to put someone else’s work down. Even otherwise good people fall into the trap. It’s not the way forward, and it benefits no one.
Please criticize. It’s important that you do. But do so with kindness and purpose. If the opinion doesn’t add value and the person on the receiving end isn’t harming anyone with their creation, then it might be a good time to reconsider voicing it.
All You Need to Know
Roosevelt was quite a prolific writer and that perhaps explains his way with words.
To dare greatly is simply to visualize and then to follow through. There isn’t any magic involved. It’s really just about getting in the arena and pushing yourself to take action.
In one way or another, we’re all consumers. More of us, however, should strive to be creators. The risk is small, and there’s often a meaningful reward on the other side.
There’s a harmful misconception in society that only the “creative” create as if it’s something that’s entirely inborn or something that can’t be picked up with practice. In reality, anyone can create. It’s just a matter of doing so. Both good and bad work will be produced.
For those that are active in voicing criticism, please exercise a degree of empathy when doing so, especially concerning people who work hard to make things and are not harming anyone else in the process. Creating isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be discouraged.
Criticism is useful, no doubt. Just don’t take the easy way out. Aim to be thoughtful and constructive. Aim to leave the situation better off than it would have been without you.
In the end, doing produces, doing inspires, and doing makes a dent. Choose the arena.
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