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.
Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic”
Over the summer, I read two books back to back that quoted this speech by Theodore Roosevelt. Too bad I haven’t been reading much outside of school since school started.
The first book, Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown, opened with this quote and used it as the central theme of the book, stating that throwing yourself into your relationships and exposing yourself, complete with weaknesses, was the very definition of vulnerability. You’ll never be completely prepared and you’re missing out on many opportunities by holding yourself back.
On the other hand, the second book, How Not to be Wrong, by Jordan Ellenberg, is entirely about statistics and probabilities and is more critical of this statement. He cites specific people who weren’t on the frontline during WWI but had a larger impact than any individual soldier. What you do isn’t important if it’s not correct. Saying “Obama will win the election,” is misleading. Saying “Either Romney or Obama will win the election, but Obama is more likely to win.” is an accurate statement. Being uncertain is a kind of action, and often a wise decision.
This is the belief that I identify with more because
it gives me an excuse to not do anything I like the idea of being “right.” I admire activists for the causes they fight for, but I can’t help but think that there’s a better way to get things done. Protests are glamorous and garner media attention, but they’re usually more emotionally than rationally driven. It’s easy to say that something is completely wrong. It’s harder to admit to admit that there may be shades of…blue in between, and that the issue isn’t as blue and…orange as it seems on the surface.
That being said, if I’ve learned anything from running #givchat, it’s that even when you pour your heart and soul into something, you’re lucky if a stranger marginally cares. Calling yourself an activist is one of the best ways to proclaim to the world that you care, but it’s no guarantee that anyone will listen to you.
I had an conversation a few days ago with a friend about modern day feminism after he claimed that “women aren’t oppressed in first world countries.” I probably should have been more outraged at the time, but we eventually agreed that most people already know about gender inequality and that most new campaigns nowadays are ineffective. Simply screaming out statistics isn’t going to gain the respect of anyone unless you’re the ones that are affected. (ahem, this video)