Not too long ago I was given a Theodore Roosevelt bobblehead by some dear friends of mine; a couple who I have laughed with, broke bread with, prayed with, and watched our kids grow up with. The bobblehead is the second in my collection of Teddy heads, the first I picked up for myself in Galena, IL. Anyone who has ever been to Galena knows the charming city overlooking the banks of the Galena River is best known for having been a residence to General Ulysses S. Grant. But when visiting the tourist center and gift shop I couldn’t resist getting a souvenir honoring one of my personal favorite historical figures – TR. My apologies to General Grant.
I am not sure where my friends found the bobblehead they gave me. They said when they saw it they thought of me and just had to get it. When presenting it to me, they took a few minutes to tell me why they wanted to get it for me. They said something about a “thank you” for some help I had given them – it was a kind and unnecessary gesture; though, honestly, I wasn’t really paying attention because I was distracted trying to figure out at the moment how they knew about my fondness for Roosevelt. Had I told them? Had they seen my other bobblehead? Did I share that I had read some of his books? Did I mention him during a presentation I had given that they had sat in on? I couldn’t remember. Finally, it came to me; it didn’t matter how they knew! I am certainly not embarrassed by or ashamed of others knowing that I gravitate towards the lessons on character, service, and what it means to be a leader that I learned from Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. It is actually great news that they know this about me. It helped to answer the life question, “Do others know what you stand for?”
Aside from being our 26th President, here are (in no particular order) a few other milestones achieved by Teddy Roosevelt. He was governor of New York, Vice President under William McKinley, Nobel Peace Prize winner, captain of the National Guard, cattle rancher, New York Assemblyman, conservationist, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant US Navy Secretary, prolific author, explorer (see The River of Doubt), Medal of Honor recipient (albeit posthumously), and leader of a volunteer cavalry known as the Rough Riders. And he did all this after overcoming severe health problems as a child; problems that likely contributed to his humble self-image as being a very “average” man. In the biography The Seven Worlds of Theodore Roosevelt by Edward Wagenknect, Roosevelt is credited with saying:
“In most things I am just about average; in some things I am a little under rather than over. I am only an ordinary walker, I can’t run. I am not a good swimmer, though a strong one. I probably ride better than anything else I do, but I certainly am not a remarkably good rider. I am not a good shot. I could never be a good boxer, though I keep at it, whenever I can. My eye sight prevents me from being a good tennis player…I am not a brilliant writer. I have written a great deal, but I always have to work and slave over everything I write. The things I have done are all, with the possible exception of the Panama Canal, just such things as any ordinary man could have done. There is nothing brilliant or outstanding in my record at all.”
There are a number of quotes attributed to Roosevelt that when I take the time to reflect on really makes an impression on my life and serve well as a moral and ethical guide. My favorites include:
- “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.“
- “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.“
- “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.“
- “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.“
- “The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.“
- “Courtesy is as much a mark of a gentleman as courage.”
- “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.“
- “Big jobs usually go to the men who prove their ability to outgrow small ones.”
- “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.“
- “The one thing I want to leave my children is an honorable name.“
- “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
I should also mention this list does not include the lengthier, inspirational speech commonly known today as “The Man in the Arena.” Every time I read it I get goosebumps and imagine myself reading it with a powerful voice akin to the likes of Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones. Check it out online if you are not familiar with it.
But I want to focus my attention today on another quote of Roosevelt’s which touches me in a profound way. It reads simply, “I am a part of everything that I have read.” Read it again, “I am a part of everything that I have read,” and allow it to sink in. Take it to heart and consider everything you have read is now a part of you. Have you read the bible? What about a birthday card? Have you read derogatory comments posted on Facebook? They are all now a part of you. How does that make you feel? Assuming the quote to be true it begs the question, “What are you reading?” What should you be reading? Do you need to make an adjustment to your reading habits? And I am not just talking about novels here; consider magazines, websites, social media posts, and blogs like this one. Each is a part of you. Like a grease stain on a white shirt that you can’t get out, you are a part of everything that you have read.
Take it another step further and again assuming the statement to be true, what are you writing that others read…which is now a part of them? “I am not an author,” you suggest. Oh, but you are. Take into account every email, text, performance appraisal, and Tweet you draft. Would you approach your writing differently if you were cognizant of the fact that your reader is “a part of everything that he/she has read?”
I interpret Roosevelt’s statement to be an example of a force multiplier. In other words, what you focus on expands. If you read negative, intolerant, hate messages you will have more negativity in your life. Conversely, if you read uplifting, encouraging, and inspirational literature (especially first thing in the morning) you will set the tone for a positive day. And if you write something that is constructive and accepting you just might make someone’s day a little better.