It is not the critic who counts

Hall of Champions, NCAA
This past week brought yet another stellar series by Ken Burns on PBS.  I have been, for some time, a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt.  When weighing the presidents I most admired, Ronald Reagan's star faded from this wide-eyed teenager/college student...a student of politics as much as architecture, as I began life outside of academia.  And the more I learned about TR, the more I saw myself living parallel with his brand of politics.

A number of my friends know this about me, so it came as no surprise last week when my more liberal friends chastised me on TR's imperialism and my conservative friends chastised me on his trust-busting and labor sympathizing roles.  I figure heck, if he managed to make everyone both love and hate him-he had to be all right.

I've never been an athlete.  I've never known the sting of defeat nor the elation of victory in an arena or on the field of play.  I have experienced it in the political arena.  And I have known it in both business and in any number of community endeavors over the last 20 years.  TR had a lot of noteworthy quotes, but one excerpt of a speech he gave in France in 1910, may be his most famous and is certainly my favorite.  I was pleased to see it encircling the rotunda of the NCAA Hall of Champions when we visited Indianapolis this summer.  This is the most quoted portion of the speech:

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. 

Several weeks ago an issue arose in our community that pit neighbor against neighbor.  Calmer heads were able to discuss this with a level of civility, but I was taken back by the depth and lack of civility that followed much of the dialogue found on social media outlets and in public meetings.  And what most concerned me was, if this rather small issue can tear at the fabric of our community, what happens when something big comes along?

I feel like we've become a people who find it easy to take a stand, welling up adversity with jarring and often inaccurate words rather than doing the hard work of making our community a better place, understanding issues, and then rolling up our sleeves to make something tangible instead of empty words hurled over the internet for our own satisfaction of reading them on a screen.  And yes, I realize the irony of typing that statement on a blog.  All the same, these critics have not entered the arena, and it would seem TR suggests they simply don't count.  This community needs more than critics on the sidelines, we need doers of deeds.


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