In the Arena

I am a peaceful man, and a pretty obscure one, but I have always wanted to be on the “front lines” of life. The heat and the totality of athletic competition, even when it was just my small-town team against the runty evil empire on the other side of the county, helped me to feel that way. Being in China, with its astonishing pace of growth and change (constructive and sometimes not-so), its relentless shouldering into the fast lanes of life on Earth, reminds me of hearing the reports of war correspondents from mysterious locales. (Except that it’s me and I’m there, and it’s still too much to grasp.) And when I sometimes come nearer an understanding the vision and the work of the Baha’i community in the world, well, that feels like being an advance guard for a new kind of humanity — not out of any sense of deserving, but simply through having stumbled upon a spiritual revolution and, occasionally, acting like it.

I teach some of the speeches of President Obama in my English and Western Culture classes at the Dalian University of Technology. Today, thinking about this “front lines” mentality, I’m inclined to add parts of this one, by the 26th American President, Theodore Roosevelt.

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.

Superb, yes? Roosevelt said this in a speech called “Citizenship in a Republic”, which he gave in Paris in 1910. The sporting undertones of his “man in the arena” metaphor no doubt contribute to the strong impact it has on me, and its exclusive language is only an arti, fact of its time. The women are in the arena, and challenging the men to share it with them.


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