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From The Strenuous Life, Chapter VI, Character and Success
That quote from Roosevelt also reveals that his fundamental reference point for instruction and inspiration was history, and more particularly, biography. Roosevelt was a deep and consistent reader. Countless stories are told of TR reading history and biography in burning sun as he waited for a perfect shot in Africa, or as he sought some shelter from rain in Amazon jungle.
From histories and biographies that he read, Roosevelt extracted vital wisdom and motivation. He learned from great men who have gone before. Then, he wrote down his thoughts about them. In his astonishingly productive life, he wrote (in addition to scores of other books) biographies of Oliver Cromwell, Thomas Hart Benton, Gouverneur Morris. He also co-authored a collection of short biographies titled Hero Tales from American History, a volume dedicated to young men of his day with hopes that they would be inspired by heroic men of American history.
Roosevelt recognized power of biography to impart heroic characteristics from great men of past to aspiring great men of today. As he constructed his life – his biography – he was constantly measuring himself against great men of past. If reading biography was important for someone as great as Roosevelt, would we not do well to follow his example?
The defining value for life of Theodore Roosevelt was really love for and service to his country. His perseverance and ambition were not merely masculine virties which he exercised for sake of Theodore Roosevelt. Rather, his character and his mental and physical toughness were consciously developed for service of his country. Roosevelt continually stressed that learning and physical exertion – even hunting he loved so much – were really about preparing a man to contribute something to his country. For Roosevelt, that obviously meant service to America.
It was in defense of his country that Roosevelt coined famous phrase, “speak softly, and carry a big stick.” And in pursuit of American interests, in each of offices that he held, Roosevelt was utterly uncompromising.
In a day when roughly half of America’s political leaders are eager to let other countries through mechanisms of international institutions control America’s destiny, Roosevelt is an anomaly. Perhaps American political leaders would be wise to revisit Roosevelt’s philosophy of American strength and yes, diplomacy, but diplomacy coupled with strength. Diplomacy without strength is cowardice looking for an excuse to display itself. Diplomacy with American strength will get results. Those results will be in interest of United States of America, to be sure. But Roosevelt was always unafraid to proclaim that when America is strong, whole world is better off.
It may have been Ronald Reagan who in 1987 asked Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” But standing just behind Reagan was memory of Theodore Roosevelt, with his big stick.
And that wall did come down – much sooner than anyone anticipated.
In an age of uncertainty and moral relativism, returning to spirit of Roosevelt is like a breathe of fresh air. He saw situations clearly and acted boldly, always in interest of America. If he helped other people and other nations along way, so be it. But that was not his intent. He always put America first.
It is thus appropriate and probably inevitable that such an amazing man would become not only President of U.S. – but also that he would eventually grace Mt. Rushmore alongside Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.
What, then, do men like us take from a giant and a real-life hero like Theodore Roosevelt? I think a few things.
First, struggling for self-improvement is a continual goal; but rest, comfort and ease are not worthwhile goals on their own. Yes, we must rest in order to recuperate. But we must recuperate only to come back stronger. We should find our weaknesses, root them out and pound them until they become our strengths. That is way of true man.
Second, protection of those within our sphere of influence is one of our highest callings. For Roosevelt, his sphere of influence was (appropriately for a man of his energy level and capacity) United States.
For us, our spheres of influence are smaller, but no less important. We are called to nurture, protect and promote our families, our businesses and vocations, and our churches and other voluntary associations. We should without reservation boldly promote these interests, protect them from harm and work hard to advance them. That doesn’t mean that we should be brutal or unethical or take short cuts. History shows that those methods are way of coward and any short term, ill-gotten gains are not in fact in interest of those we are called to protect. Our call is to be guided by ethics, morality and fair play and within those guidelines to defend, nurture, promote and cherish those in our sphere of influence. Nothing more, nothing less.
We need not save world; indeed, if more of us would just take care of our spheres of influences with half energy of Roosevelt, then world would largely be taken care of. That is an agenda which TR would agree that every man should pursue, and pursue it with might, vigor and desire. Men like that will undoubtedly wear out, not rust out, but TR would have it no other way.
My hope is that life of Theodore Roosevelt will do for you what he has done for me; that his life will inspire you and bless you as you fulfill your God-given potential. If you are inspired by Roosevelt and his life, then please visit my web site: www.ConversationsFromthePast.com.
Mark Cole, an attorney, has degrees from Baylor, Yale, Notre Dame & University of Houston. To learn more about how the Great Men can inspire and motivate you, visit http://www.ConversationsFromthePast.com.