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Of course there is now and then a man who in some given crisis plays the hero although on other occasions he plays the brute - there are such cases; but it is a mighty unsafe thing to proceed upon the assumption that because a man is ordinarily a brute he will therefore be a hero in a crisis. Disregarding the exceptions, and speaking normally, no man can be of any service to the State, no man can amount to anything from the standpoint of usefulness to the community at large, unless first and foremost he is a decent man in the close relations of life. No community can afford to think for one moment that great public service, that great material achievement, that ability shown in no matter how many different directions, will atone for the lack of a sound family life.
Multiplication of divorces means that there is something rotten in the community, that there is some principle of evil at work which must be counteracted and overcome or widespread disaster will follow. In the same way, if the man preaches and practices a different code of morality for himself than that which he demands that his wife shall practice, then no profession on his part of devotion to civic ideals will in the least avail to alter the fact that he is fundamentally a bad citizen. I do not believe in weakness. I believe in a man's being a man; and for that very reason I abhor the creature who uses the expression that “a man must be a man" in order to excuse his being a vile and vicious man.
1 Permission to use this excerpt granted by The Harr Wagner Publishing Company, publishers of Theodore Roosevelt's Realizable Ideals.
IF you leave Groton, and the college to which you afterward go, if you go to any — if you leave simply with the feeling that you have had ten delightful years; that you have just barely got through your examinations; that you have graduated; that you are not positively disgraced; that you have met decent people, and that life has been easy and it won't be your fault if it does not continue as easy - if that is the feeling wit
if that is the feeling with which you have left school and college, then you are poor creatures, and there is small good that will ever come out of you.
Of course, the worst of all lives is the vicious life; the life of a man who becomes a positive addition to the forces of evil in a community. Next to that - and when I am speaking to people who, by birth and training and standing, ought to amount to a great deal, I have a right to say only second to it in criminality comes the life of mere vapid ease. Of all the miserable people that I know I should put high in the top rank those who reach middle age having steadfastly striven only to amuse themselves as they went through life. If there ever was a pursuit which stultified itself by its very conditions, it is the pursuit of pleasure as the all-sufficing end of life.
Happiness cannot come to any man capable of enjoying true happiness unless it comes as the sequel to duty well and honestly done. To do that duty you need to have more than one trait. You will meet plenty of well-meaning people who speak to you as if one trait were enough. That is not so. You might just as well in any rough sport in any game, think that a man could win by mere strength if he was clumsy; or by mere agility and precision of movement without strength; or by strength and agility if he had no heart. You need a great many qualities to make a successful man on a nine or an eleven; and just so you need a great many different qualities to make a good citizen. In the first place, of course, it is almost tautological to say that to make a good citizen the prime need is to be decent in thought, clean in mind, clean in action; to have an ideal and not to keep that ideal purely for the study - to have an ideal which you will in good faith strive to live up to when you are out in life. If you have an ideal only good while you sit at home, an ideal that nobody can live up to in outside life, then I advise you strongly to take that ideal, examine it closely, and then cast it away. It is not a good one. The ideal that it is impossible for a man to strive after in practical life is not the type of ideal that you wish to hold up and follow. Be practical as well as generous in your ideals. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.
Be truthful; a lie implies fear, vanity or malevolence; and be frank; furtiveness and insincerity are faults incompatible with true manliness. Be honest, and remember that honesty counts for nothing unless back of it lie courage and efficiency. If in this country we ever have to face a state of things in which on one side stand the men of high ideals who are honest, good, well-meaning, pleasant people, utterly unable to put those ideals into shape in the rough field of practical life, while on the other side are grouped the strong, powerful, efficient men with no ideals, then the end of the Republic will be near. The salvation of the Republic depends — the salvation of our whole social system depends - upon the production year by year of a sufficient number of citizens who possess high ideals combined with the practical power to realize them in actual life.
You often hear people speaking as if life was like striving upward toward a mountain peak. That is not so. Life is as if you were traveling a ridge crest. You have the gulf of inefficiency on one side and the gulf of wickedness on the other, and it helps not to have avoided one gulf if you fall into the other. It shall profit us nothing if our people are decent and ineffective. It shall profit us nothing if they are efficient and wicked. In every walk of life, in business, politics; if the need comes, in war; in literature, science, art, in everything, what we need is a sufficient number of men who can work well and who will work with a high ideal. The work can be done in a thousand different ways. Our public life depends primarily not upon the men who occupy public positions for the moment, because they are but an infinitesimal fraction of the whole. Our public life depends upon men who take an active interest in that public life; who are bound to see public affairs honestly and competently managed; but who have the good sense to know what honesty and competency actually mean. And any such man, if he is both sane and high-minded, can be a greater help and strength to any one in public life than you can easily imagine without having had yourselves the experience. It is an immense strength to a public man to know a certain number of people to whom he can appeal for advice and for backing; whose character is so high that baseness would shrink ashamed before them; and who have such good sense that any decent public servant is entirely willing to lay before them every detail of his actions, asking only that they know the facts before they pass final judgment.
Success does not lie entirely in the hands of any one of us. From the day the tower of Siloam fell, misfortune has fallen sometimes upon the just as well as the unjust. We sometimes see the good man, the honest man, the strong man, broken down by forces over which he had no control. If the hand of the Lord is heavy upon us the strength and wisdom of man shall avail nothing. But as a rule in the long run each of us comes pretty near to getting what he deserves. Each of us can, as a rule — there are, of course, exceptions — finally achieve the success best worth having, the success of having played his part honestly and manfully; of having lived so as to feel at the end he has done his duty; of having been a good husband, a good father; of having tried to make the world a little better off rather than worse off because he has lived; of having been a doer of the word and not a hearer only - still less a mere critic of the doers. Every man has it in him, unless fate is indeed hard
him, to win out that measure of success if he will honestly try.
The first thing I want to say to you here, is that the only efficient way in which, in after life, you can show your gratitude to the school, is by the kind of reputation you
1 Speech at the Prize Day Exercises at Groton School, Groton, Mass., May 24, 1904.