“Daring greatly”. That was the phrase coined by that whirlwind of masculinity known to the world as Teddy – Theodore Roosevelt. While in Paris in April 1910, Roosevelt gave a speech that has come to be known as “The Man in the Arena” speech. The speech, which I have my boys memorize and have written about here, implores men to take action, to refuse to be someone who sits on the sidelines of life. Such a person, if he fails, at least fails while “daring greatly”, a state much better than merely surviving on the sidelines.
I spent the better part of last weekend in a hospital room with a beloved family member in the twilight of her life. As I watched her, I wondered where death would find me. Would he find me in a hospital bed, a nursing home, on a highway, at home, or in the wilderness? What kind of man would find when he came? Would he find someone who had built a life full of accomplishments? Would he find someone who had maximized his time on earth? Or would he find someone who played it safe, someone who took the easy road, or someone with regrets?
It’s pretty clear that our progress as a society means that we live safer, more comfortable lives than ever before in history. By and large, that’s a good thing. Most of us don’t have to wake up each morning and worry about survival. On average, we have the ability to live comfortable lives into our mid-seventies. But along with that comfort comes the temptation to play it safe. To stay comfortable. To avoid anything that might cause us to get hurt. In other words, we’re tempted to avoid living.
It’s become evident that modern medicine now allows us to live far beyond our ability to have a high quality of life. Ventilators, feeding tubes, and the like all allow our bodies to live on beyond our ability to actually do anything. And this is not a criticism of anyone’s end of life choices – it may very well be that I’ll beg the doctors to do anything to extend my days or moments at the end of my life.
“Health nuts are going to feel stupid some day, lying in hospitals, dying of nothing.” – Redd Foxx
My point is much more current. What are we doing with our lives before we reach that point. Redd Foxx used to make fun of health nuts by saying that they’re “going to feel stupid some day, lying in hospitals, dying of nothing.” While Foxx misses the point that those health nuts probably had a much higher quality of life for the last 20 years of their lives, his quote is hilarious, and it sheds light on our current predicament in that too many of us work too hard to create lives where we die of nothing. The odd irony: such efforts lead to a life of nothing. No value. No accomplishments. No experiences. No memories. Just safety and comfort. That, gentlemen, is a life to regret.
Look, I’m anything but a thrill seeker. I can stay at home and relax with the best of them. But that’s not the man’s life. The man’s life is to get out in this rugged world and take it on. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some, you’ll get hurt – but that kind of life, in itself, is winning. It’s the life that brings joy and satisfaction. It’ll bring discomfort. It’ll bring pain. It may bring an early death. But it’ll bring with it experiences. And memories. And smiles. And no regrets.
My current fascination is grizzly bears. In some way, they and the lands in which they live seem to be the last remnant of a world in which men lived the way they ought to live: wild, rugged, and free. My plan is to go out where the grizzly bears roam and hunt elk, moose, and other big game. Doing that carries a certain amount of risk. People die from grizzly bear attacks every year, with hunters, fishermen, and hikers being especially at risk. But, man, that’s living.
In a lot of ways, I cannot live long enough. I want to see my kids grow up, get married, and have kids of their own. Then I want to watch those kids grow up and do the same, over and over and over. It will never be enough. But I don’t want to live through a screen, sitting on the sidelines, playing it safe in the hopes that I can squeeze a few more years out of my safe, comfortable existence. I WANT TO LIVE. And that means to risk an early death. But those who die early doing meaningful things have lived well, have dared greatly, and that is all we can ask of ourselves.
So that’s my challenge for you today, to live the man’s life, a life that is filled with actual living. A life that is filled with daring greatly. Roosevelt noted that those who fail while “daring greatly” know that “their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Likewise, those who dare greatly know that their place will never be among those who are too scared to live.
Daring greatly will probably look different for you than it does for me, but it will require strength, it will require courage, and it will require competence. And it will all be sweeter if you live that way along with a group of like-minded men. This is the man’s life. May we all find it. Godspeed.
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