I don’t agree with those who plunge headlong into the middle of the flood and who, accepting a turbulent life, struggle daily in great spirit with difficult circumstances. The wise person will endure that, but won’t choose it—choosing to be at peace, rather than at war.
—Seneca, Moral Letters, 28.7
It has become a cliche to quote Theodore Roosevelt‘s “Man in the Arena” speech, which lionizes “the one whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly …” compared with the critic who sits on the sidelines. Roosevelt gave that speech shortly after he left office, at the hight of his popularity. In a few years, he would run against his former protege in an attempt to retake the White House, losing badly and nearly assassinated in the process. He would also nearly die exploring a river in the Amazon, kill thousands of animals in African safaris, and then beg Woodrow Wilson to allow him to enlist in World War I despite being 59 years old. He would do a lot of things that seem somewhat baffling in retrospect.
Theodore Roosevelt was a truly great man. But he was also driven by a compulsion, a work and activity addiction that was seemingly without end. Many of us share this affliction—being driven by something we can’t control. We’re afraid of being still, so we seek out strife and action as a distraction. We choose to be at war—in some cases, literally—when peace is in fact the more honorable and fitting choice.
Yes, the man in the arena is admirable. As is the soldier and the politician and the businesswoman and all the other occupations. But this is a big but, only if we’re in the arena for the right reasons.
* Source: The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman