I was sitting at my desk during my lunch break looking for something to read, when I came across a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt at the University of Paris, Sorbonne in 1910. Think about that for a second. This speech was given 95 years ago, a time in which France was the only other republic on the planet. It is titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” and don’t worry-- I’m not going to paste the entire speech here. The following quotes struck a number of chords in me, and so I thought they’d do the same for at least some of you. What follows is not a political diatribe, but simply some thoughts on how ideals haven’t changed in the last hundred years, but practices have.
Roosevelt is most famous for his personal policy, “speak softly, and carry a big stick,” but I think this quote is more telling of his character: “Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.” Here are what I thought were some of the highlights:
This is what I think of as Roosevelt’s “Coach Mode.” His argument is almost the same as reasoning that a superstar or two can’t carry a team for very long. The higher the average quality of the team, the better the team will do. This is recognized by good coaches, business men, and managers alike; it is also the biggest argument against decreasing public educational spending.
Inspirational Teddy. This quote gets me through funky Ian King routines. It also keeps me in check when I feel like gloating, or when a “bad sportsmanship” moment comes over me. I can almost imagine Teddy saying to me, “Shut the fuck up. Who are you to criticize anybody?”
Hmm, “deride or slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day.” Yeah, I’ve done that. “Well,” I’d say, “At least I’m not a garbage man.” Or, “What?! You want me to get a job sweeping floors?” The truth is this: if all of the web designers in the world went on strike, there would be minor hiccups. Companies might lose a couple bucks. What I now do for a living is not all that important in the big scheme of things. On the other hand, if all of the garbage collectors in the world went on strike, we’d be face to face with plagues and epidemics in a matter of days. This was not an easy realization for me to make, but it’s one that definitely puts the world in perspective.
With the anti-French “cheese-eating surrender-monkey” attitude being en vogue these days, don’t forget your history lessons. Roosevelt knew, probably better than most, that France had pulled our nuts out of the fire before, so pay respect and give thanks where it’s due.
Pretty much sums up what I think of as T-Man ideals.
The speech is long; there’s much more to it, and much of it is as good as (or better than) what I’ve quoted. The entire text is readily available online, as are the rest of his speeches. Reading some of them will give you insight into what it meant to “be a man” around the beginning of the 20th century.
Oh, and that picture up top is a young Teddy Roosevelt in his Harvard sculling outfit. You don’t mess with a man with chops like that…