I have been reading The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt the last few weeks — well, rather, listening to it on Audible. I am about 3/4 of the way through the book and the thing that continues to strike me is how people describe Roosevelt when meeting him for the first time. I don’t know if there is a man with whom we can compare him to today.
Here is a bit from the book:
“Theodore Roosevelt is a man of such overwhelming physical impact, that he stamps himself immediately on the consciousness.
‘Do you know the two most wonderful things I have seen in your country?’, says the English Statesman John Morley, ‘Niagara Falls and the President of the United States; both great wonders of nature.’
Their common quality, which paintings and photographs fail to capture, is a perpetual flow of torrential energy. A sense of motion even in stillness. Both are physically thrilling to be near.” – The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
This is no complimentary or jocular exaggeration. The book is filled with statements like this. Countless diaries record meeting “The most peculiar and amazing man I have ever met.” and “If he sets his mind to it, that man will be president some day.”
Having a sense of this kind of man, yet, not having a true example for comparison, I began really looking at the pictures of Roosevelt which in turn led me to write this article. I was particularly interested in contrasting him with the usual man-on-the-street in his day. In comparison, you can see the difference in stance, demeanor, strength, and independence in Roosevelt’s countenance as compared to those men in the crowd and even those other politicians who stood with him. In one sense, he is part of the crowd, yet in another sense, he stands alone. Here are some thoughts on how we can do the same.
First, some photos of Theodore Roosevelt that caught my attention. Have a good look and maybe you’ll catch what I am saying before I say it:
The Comfort of the Crowd
“It is better to be faithful than famous.” – Theodore Roosevelt
When I speak of “the crowd” I am not talking in the strictest sense of those people in the crowd around Roosevelt or any other speaker. I am talking more along the lines of the masses of people of a particular, though often undefined, ideology: Political standings (Republican\Democrat\Liberal\etc.), social standings (gender roles\pro-life\pro-choice\etc.), and religious theocrats.
The defining characteristic of “the crowd” is that people participate in it for the sake of “the crowd” and the security and anonymity it offers. If the crowd disbands, the cause is abandoned. The individual drive is not engaged when there is a one-on-one uphill battle. If the leader falls or falters, the mission fails. The individual is merely used, not empowered.
For Roosevelt, “the crowd”, was the Republican Machine or sometimes the whole rotten political system. Though he was also a Republican, there was — and continues to be — a serious divide in the party. Many saw politics as a win-at-all-cost (and lucrative) game and did not like Roosevelt cracking down on crooked politicians and police. More than once he received booby-trapped packages designed to explode in his face the moment he opened them. Rather than considering the political consequences of his actions, he stayed true to what he believed in.
There are comfortable aspects to just being part of the crowd that can lull us into a false sense of rightness. Here are a few to look out for.
The Crowd is Self-Affirming
By nature of the crowd being either a majority — or rather a perceived majority — , it appears to have a strong degree of credibility. Granted, this is a fallacy, but it feels good to be included, to move and think with the masses, to be in solidarity with your fellow-man.
The Crowd is Strong
There is an allure of power in The Crowd. Sometimes this is physical as seen in riots, other times this is an emotional high, an exhilaration like when the powerful waves of the ocean pick you up in its swell. The strength here is real, the issue is whether or not it is good.
The Crowd is not Accountable
Many people will feel there is little risk in being part of the crowd, however wrong they may be. After all, can you really hold someone accountable if so many others were swept along with the popular current? Where there is no risk, there is also a paper-thin boldness. And, not being backed by real courage, people fight from atop a prideful hill. The result is an unflattering and unmanly brashness.
Developing the Character to Stand Alone
“I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do! That is character!” – Theodore Roosevelt
In most old photos of political speeches, the speaker is talking to a friendly crowd of like-minded supporters. Certainly now-a-days, a politician won’t risk the heckles and jeers from an unsupportive audience and so we rarely see men tackle a tough crowd in the way Roosevelt did. His goal was always to inspire and win them over.
Whether it is giving a political speech or going against the grain at work, church, family life, friendships, etc., a man must have the fortitude to stand his ground and defend his position, even if that means he will stand alone.
Become a Man of Convictions
I wrote an article series on this topic using Phil Robertson as an example. Have a look there for a more thoughts on this. Convictions are things you are sure of, things you’re willing to fight for. In order for something to become a legitimate conviction, it will have gone through the rigors of testing: Is this logical or just emotional? What are the opposing thoughts on this? What are my counter arguments? How does this affect other areas of life? Why is this important?
Become Comfortable Leading Yourself
I have known a number of men that feel weird going to a restaurant or movie by themselves. Even if they really wanted to go they wouldn’t do it. Being comfortable alone is a step in the right direction, but being comfortable leading yourself means much more:
- Confidence in your ability to make decisions – You have to trust yourself to make good decisions.
- Willingness to take the blame – If your decisions fail (and they will), you have to be willing to accept the consequences.
Learn to Enjoy the Fight!
Roosevelt loved the fight! Perhaps a little too much actually. He had a waking desire to be thrown into some difficult, manful work. One of his many admirable qualities was that he rarely took things personally. When someone, or usually a group, would come against an ideal of his, he considered the ideal to be under attack, not himself, and would defend the ideal rather than getting beaten down by ad hominems.
It is one thing to enjoy having the last word or “always being right”; those are not manly. It is another to enjoy the virile rush in the defense of goodness.
Finding a Group of Like-Minded Individualist
Once a man has established his own convictions he can benefit from a group that is different from “the crowd”. A group of like-minded individuals, each man holding his own and opening himself up to the accountability of other men, is a must for the heart of a man to thrive. Based not on the doctrine of “the crowd” but on the personal value that each man holds to, iron sharpens iron and men hold each other to a higher standard. This kind of group stays on track, not because of a central figure, but because each man is a fighter in his own right.
Roosevelt had such a group. Here is a photo of him with his Rough Riders. He doesn’t seem so out-of-place among these men, does he?
Finding a group of individualist with a desire for comradeship can be tough. Maybe it’s a workout group. Maybe it’s a group of men at church. Maybe it’s a few friends on a sports team. Either way, here are some rules you should share with the group to keep it effective and prevent it from turning into a “crowd”.
Keep it Small
Anonymity is easy in a crowd, but not in a small band of brothers. Also, having the comradeship (I was going to say ‘intimacy’ here) necessary for men to speak boldly and strongly to each other requires knowing each other. Most guys can get spread pretty thin pretty quickly when groups get too large.
Hold Each Other Accountable
Accountability doesn’t mean jumping on each other for any small issue. It means holding each other to the “code” of the group. Maybe that code is about following Christ. Maybe it’s about giving it your all. Maybe it’s about being there for your fellow brother in his time of need. Whatever it happens to be, accountability for the individual as well as the team is key.
One of the differentiating factors between “the crowd” and a band of brothers, is the individual ownership and personal investment. This leads to a desire to see the group grow or improve, usually through personal improvement and the building up of others. Think King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table. Arthur was the leader, but at the table the men could address one another as equals, each bringing ideas or criticisms forward, therefore each investing personally in the group. Also, they were doing knightly things like killing foes and saving maidens which, I hear, is a healthy bonding experience for men.
The Stoic Man believes he needs to be all-sufficient, that he should weather the storms of life on his own, so he avoids “the crowd”, but also loses out on the benefit of camaraderie. There is a natural tendency to take up arms with your fellow-man, whatever the fight may be. The key is maintaining an individualistic rationale and perspective so that when “the crowd”, or even your band of brothers, tries to pull you in the wrong direction, you can stand firmly for your convictions.