In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt gave what would become what was perhaps the most quoted speech of his career. The former president and devoted naturalist was eager to travel the world following the end of his presidency, so he spent a year hunting in Africa before embarking on a tour of Europe in the spring of 1910, giving speeches in cities such as Cairo, Berlin, and London, among others.
He stopped in Paris on April 23, before a crowd that included more than one thousand students and an audience of two thousand more ticket holders. It was there where Roosevelt delivered a speech called “Citizenship in a Republic,” which would come to be known more prominently over the following century as “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."
Language — both spoken and written — has the power to divide as well as to unite, to conceal as well as to convey, to hurt as well as to heal.
Today’s discourse that pervades the arena spoken of by the 26th President of the United States, is as much a source of promise as of peril. Our capacity to persuade and be persuaded is critical to our ability to live with one another without violence, force, or tyranny. Yet this capacity can, with greater finesse and more lasting consequences than sheer violence, undermine social norms and institutions.
During a recent summit sponsored by The Center for Responsible Leadership at the United Nations, I joined with former Senator Joe Lieberman and Adam Sharp, President & CEO of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, to discuss restoring civility to public discourse. In an age of increasingly divisive rhetoric, everyone — the media, our public leaders, the general public — has a role to play in the restoration of civility in public discourse. If we are to build and safeguard an environment conducive to collaboration and reasonable decision-making, it cannot be based on bullying, threats or embarrassments.
As someone who served America domestically and abroad under a conservative Republican President, was confirmed by Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from a liberal Democrat president, I firmly believe we need to preserve the space for rational debate.
As someone who has endured partisan attacks and faced heated public controversy, I also know we must strive for respectful disagreement and constructive compromise.
We must meet our current and future challenges head-on and leave a world that our children can enjoy and thrive in. Surely that begins with entering the arena with passion and civility as opposed to merely joining the chorus of critics on social media or cable news intent on sowing discord. Otherwise, you’ll surely land among those timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen, the world's largest breast cancer charity, has served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary, U.S. chief of protocol, and as a Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control to the U.N.'s World Health Organization. She is continuing her work in efforts to end death from cancer. The opinions expressed here belong solely to the author. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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